Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pine Cay Pioneers . . . November 7, 2009

By Donald H Keith

Yesterday marked the end of our two weeks of field work on Ft. George Cay. It was a little sad to backfill the test excavations, take down our base camp, and shuttle everything back to Pine Cay. We didn’t accomplish as much as I hoped, but there’s nothing new about that. I’ve always been suspicious that meeting all your goals may mean that they weren’t set high enough to start with.

There is still a lot of Ft. George Cay to explore. We did not set foot on every square meter of land or comb the shallows offshore as thoroughly as I intended. Clumps of really dense bush discouraged us from testing many promising areas. But we managed to accurately map the locations where we found evidence of habitation and put them on geo-registered high-resolution digital aerial photos of Ft. George Cay using a program called Oziexplorer. This is important because the part of the cay currently protected by legislation is only 1 acre. The maps now irrefutably demonstrate that structures and artifacts belonging to the fort cover at least 8 acres and probably much more.

Last night we gave a brief presentation at the Meridian Club. For us it was an honor and a privilege because many of the people who pioneered the exploration of Ft. George decades ago were in the audience. We owe them a lot; they have been the custodians of the fort for more than 30 years. They are the ones who brought Ft. George and its history to our attention, the ones who first voiced alarm at how rapidly it is eroding into the sea, and the ones who made this expedition possible. They initiated research in Great Britain and elsewhere to pick up the wispy historical threads that reveal who built the fort, when it was constructed, and why. One Pine Cay couple has already donated their collection of documents, maps, and artifacts to the Museum and another collection is pledged. A very accurate and highly detailed map of the principal ruins that they made in 1998, when compared with ours, furnishes incontrovertible evidence of the rate of erosion experienced by the part of the fort closest to shore. At least 40 feet of it has fallen into the sea in the last 11 years!

Although the field work portion of our archaeological exploration of Ft. George is finished, the project is far from over. We have artifacts and samples to clean, conserve, and analyze, articles and reports to write, and exhibits to prepare. We hope that our efforts will engender a greater awareness of the historical importance of Ft. St. George, how rapidly shore erosion is destroying parts of it, and how time for efforts to protect and preserve it is running out.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Poison Wood Area Part 2 . . . November 5, 2009

By Toni Carrell

We went back to the Poison Wood Area with the instruction to “. . . see if those conch shells mean anything.” Fortunately, we’d already expanded the cleared area of leaf litter and done some limited testing. Here is a list of what turned up:
  • 2 iron eye-bolts
  • 10 small cream ware ceramic fragments
  • 3 small blue transfer ware ceramic fragments
  • 2 brown slipware ceramics
  • 1 gray slipware ceramic
  • 2 large cast iron slabs, curved, one with a “tab” (found the day before)
  • 2 pieces of copper alloy sheet 3 by 4 inches (one with two very small tack holes)
  • 8 iron round- and/or square-shanked nails (in a concentrated area)
  • 2 pipe stem fragments
  • 2 large green glass bottle bases (and quite a few fragments)
  • 1 musket ramrod pipe fragment (see image below)
  • 1 copper alloy object with some organic wrapping on one end
  • 1 piece thick ceramic, rim section
  • 1 piece stone, worked
  • 6 buttons, two different sizes
  • fire brick pieces
What do YOU think this all means?    Hint – can you group these into activities?

Here are a few more clues:
- This area is about 150 feet away from a clearly defined stone foundation.
 - The two large cast iron slabs turned out to be quite different on closer inspection. The one with the “tab” is really the base to a Dutch oven with only one leg remaining.
- The piece of thick ceramic that is a rim section looks like part of a chamber pot.
- The piece of worked stone is actually the flint (see image below) to a musket’s firing mechanism.

If you are thinking house site, keep in mind we did not find any foundation stones here. On the other hand those curios iron eye bolts could be tent pegs or the concentration of iron nails could suggest a wooden framed building. All those soldiers had to live some where, right? But neither of those structures would leave much evidence.

The Dutch oven, conch shells, ceramics, glass bottles, and pipe stems certainly points to at least an area where they were eating, drinking, and smoking.

If you are still scratching your head, then you are not alone. But that is the biggest challenge in archaeology -- to keep trying to fit the pieces together to come up with a picture of the past.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thomas Brown and Fort St. George . . . November 4, 2009

A Guest Blog
By Dr. Charlene Kozy
Authority on the Loyalist Planters in the Turks & Caicos Islands

A short while ago I was asked if I knew who built Fort St. George. Without hesitation, I answered, “Thomas Brown, one of the American Loyalists that settled on the Caicos Islands.” My answer was based on original sources found in the Colonial Office in London. In one letter, written to the Earl of Camden, Brown told how he “met the threat of a French invasion in an area totally out of protection of government and is daily exposed to capture or destruction.” He states that he constructed two forts at his own expense and provided the same with 14 guns from the last war and built a furnace for the “heating of shot” (remains of furnace at left).

He wrote to the Under Secretary of State encouraging the British to recognize Fort St. George as an important port for trading in the Caribbean and asked that it be fortified. He retells about the construction of forts and the provisions provided by the inhabitants of the Island. (CO260/19) A third letter written to John Sullivan, Esq. describes Grand Caicos as:
"being surrounded…of rocks and shoals is, as far as my knowledge extends…fortified by nature than any island in the west. The quarter of the island most vulnerable is at St. George”s…where inhabititants for the protection of the harbor…at their own expense, constructed a stockade, a…platform for 16 guns, furnace for heating shot…barracks for 40 men. The Garrison, principally consisted of Blacks, the property furnished by the inhabitants, who did duty at Ft. George until relieved by a detachment of His Majesty’s 63 Regt…Artillery sent by Lord Balcarras from Jamaica …of Saint Domingo by the British Forces" (CO260/18).

The British began issuing land grants to Loyalists between 1789-1790. (Bahama Registry) but cotton cultivation had not gained the importance that the sugar plantations held in the West Indies . When the British and French began a war in the West Indies the Caicos was dangerously exposed and this stimulated the new settlers to try to protect their property.

Thomas Brown came to America at age 24. Seeds of the revolution had been sown and his verbal support of the King led to harsh treatment by the Sons of Liberty. He became one of the ablest fighters for the King and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the King’s Rangers Regiment. Many of the men who fought with him in America settled with him on the Caicos. He is well known in American history for his ability and resilience. He fought from forts and would understand their construction and value.

Dates would suggest that Brown and/or his followers built the fort(s) after 1793. The British sent a regiment sometime after October, 1798 led by Neil Campbell to man the fort perhaps at Brown’s request. Campbell returned to England in 1800. (The Bahama Almanac and Register for the Year 1801. Memoir of Sir Neil Campbell.)

The Poison Wood Area, Part 1 . . . November 4, 2009

By Toni Carrell

For the past couple of days we fanned out across the island to see if we can locate any other structures from the fort. We’ve hacked, crawled, and swatted lots of mosquitoes along the way and have learned a lot. One of the things we’ve learned is that it is likely that not all of the buildings were constructed of stone and if there are other buildings they will leave only very subtle clues.

A good example is the infamous “Poison Wood” area. Despite our concerns about going back in there, we poked around removing leaf litter and scraping away the thin topsoil. One of the first things uncovered was a concentration of old, very old, conch shells. We know from the other structures that the soldiers were eating a lot of conch. Then we saw some very tiny fragments of typical ceramics (called cream ware and blue transfer ware). A bit more investigation turned up some heavy pieces of cast iron and some iron nails.

But the question is, “Is this an area where there was a building or just where they threw stuff?”

We really want the answer, so we plan on going back there tomorrow to do some more work. Stay tuned . . . maybe we can figure this out together.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The 7th Gun . . . November 3, 2009

By Neal Hitch

We found a cannon today.

Off of the north shore of Fort George there are cannons in the water. They are a snorkeling attraction.

Thomas Brown wrote that he outfitted the battery at Ft. George with 16 cannons in the 1790s. In 1967, the British Directorate of Overseas Survey completed an Ordnance Survey Map which located six cannons on a hand map of the cay. Three of the cannons are visible above the sand today. Five cannons were identified and measured by Dr. Donald Keith in 2008.

In July 2008, a magnetometer survey was completed around Ft. George Cay. The magnetometer is a survey instrument that records the magnetic field in a given area. It is used to locate buried iron objects. The results of the magnetometer survey included seven large magnetic anomalies on the north shore of Ft. George.

On the second day of the survey we located five cannons and Will Allen got some great photos of them (see image at right). At the end of last week we located cannon number six. This cannon was sitting just a few inches under the sand with the cascabel toward the sea and the muzzle toward the beach.

Today, we found cannon number seven. This cannon has never been documented at Ft. George before today. The magnetometer survey showed a large iron object located 50 yards south of the other cannons. At the end of the day we decided to do a little extra “water work” and set about trying to find the extra cannon. We found it by calculating a distance from the grids on the survey map and running a measuring tape off of the existing cannons. We marked an area at 64 meters and began to swim up and down the beach with a metal detector. About forty five minute later we hit a very large iron artifact.

The cannon sits six to eight inches under the sand, upside down, with the muzzle pointing back towards the other cannons. It is 4 foot eleven inches long. The muzzle boar diameter is 3 inches. This may have been a 4 pounder. It was an amazing find at the end of a long day. By tomorrow the cannon will have been consumed by the sand again, but now we know that it exists.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Digging for the Past to Preserve the Future . . . November 2, 2009

By Will Allen, Volunteer

As a professional photographer I often travel to remote destinations photographing or filming whatever I can, usually sharks or some sort of underwater life. Just before I head out on a new expedition I get comments from friends back in Montreal along the lines of … "Poor you, working in an island paradise" or” Wow, it sure sucks to be you." So when one of my best friends tells me he's going to his place in the Turks and Caicos to do an archaeological dig on a tiny island called Fort St. George Cay and it happens to coincide with my vacation time, I jump on the chance to tag along and help out.

After a little back and forth and logistics we settle on some dates that work and the next thing I know I'm standing on Fort St. George Cay with a machete in one hand and a metal detector in the other hacking down poisonwood trees and shrubs attempting to find anything that gives us clues into the past. The people I met and the experiences I had on this trip will stay with me for a lifetime. I now have a personal attachment to this little island because my close friend is living a stones throw away from the old fort and he introduced me to it on my first visit years ago. So helping out on this, despite the threat of poisonwood and whatever else may lie hidden under the brush of Fort George, is a real opportunity. We have since found a multitude of cannon balls, shot, buttons and many more objects that give us a glimpse into the past of what life may have been like on the island.

Unfortunately I only had one week to help, but will remember it for the rest of my life. I learned more than I ever thought I would from the great team of archaeologists. From photographing a couple of huge cannons that lie just off shore in a few feet of water, to digging holes in the sand to find a tiny piece of metal that could have been a nail, or perhaps a piece of a barrel loop, there have been endless adventures on Fort St George. I'm convinced that this team will make a huge difference to the island’s future and well being.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

In The Dumps . . . November 1, 2009

By Donald Keith

Last night we visited Pine Cay home owners Jack McWilliams and his wife, Mary. They had some things they wanted us to see. Jack and I go way back. He is the one who took me to see Ft. George Cay for the first time at least 10 years ago. Jack spent a lot of time over the last couple of decades exploring the ruins and keeping a sharp eye out for artifacts that occasionally turn up on the beach or in the bush, half covered in leaves. These objects made him and other people on Pine Cay curious about the history of Ft. George. They began to make inquiries and look for old records that might reveal who built the fort and when it was occupied. Over the years this small group of friends collected artifacts and compiled a lot of important information that goes a long way toward answering these questions.

Fortunately for us, they even made carefully measured maps of the ruins on the island. These maps reveal that over the last 10 years at least 50 feet of the northwestern shore of Ft. George, where a large part of the fort was sited originally, has eroded away into the sea, taking with it most of the largest structure. Extrapolating that rate of erosion back 200 years, one can easily imagine that the cannons, now lying in chest-deep water 150 feet off shore, were once on solid land.

Jack came with us over to Ft. George a few days ago. His familiarity with the island was so intimate we started calling him “GPS McWilliams.” He was amazed at how much of what we call “Structure A” has disappeared since the last time he visited the island a few years ago. Pushing back into the bush we showed him two other structures that he had heard about, but never visited in person. In turn, he showed us things we had not noticed, including an area he called “the dump” where he found all sorts of artifacts jumbled together in a shallow pit.

This was the reason we visited him at his home last night. Although we have found an abundance of lead and iron shot, musket parts, iron fasteners, shards of ceramic and glass vessels and the like, the objects Jack found at “the dump” were different and more varied. One of his most remarkable finds was a fragmentary bone knife handle with the letter “M” clearly inscribed on it. He also found bone buttons and the stock from which the buttons were being cut.

Our hats are off to Jack and the other “Pine Cay Pioneers” who started exploration of Ft. St. George Cay decades ago, and who have shared their knowledge and enthusiasm with us, and who have made our archaeological exploration of Ft. George Cay possible.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What do Buttons and Cannons Have in Common? . . . October 31, 2009

By David Stone, Volunteer

I am writing this blog on day five of the survey from the comfort of my hotel suite in Provo. The other team members are slaving away in the hot sun while my wife and I had to take a day off and recuperate. Reality is slowly setting in and the heat and humidity are taking their toll.  Not that the work is particularly arduous, in fact, it is incredibly interesting as we are learning new things almost by the minute. And it is especially gratifying and rewarding from an inner sense and perspective.

On the third day of the project, and our first in the water, I was able to see very clearly the five submerged cannons. Now this is getting exciting! I imagined troops standing behind the cannons loading them and firing them at the enemy out on the reef. If I were a button that's where I'd fall off - right behind a cannon. And one of my hopes for this project was that I would find a button that could help to fill in the story of the fort and its soldiers.

One of the more common items we are finding on land and in the water are pieces of shot, bits of iron and other metal fragments, often concreted together. So when my detector beeped yet again behind one of the partially buried cannons it was nothing special. I figured it was probably just another chunk of shot.

For some unexplained reason I happened to look in my sand scoop. Caught between the two screens I spied what I thought was a nickel. It was about the right size but appeared a bit curved and devoid of any writing. Closer examination revealed I had found my button! Neal Hitch told me that only a few of these buttons were found previously, but only on land. The ocean has taken its toll on this button and a bit of the detail is worn off from being submerged for some 200 years.

That afternoon back at Pine Cay, Neal and I found a British website with over 100 British regimental uniform buttons on display. The new button matched one on the website perfectly, although not in as good a condition and it is dated 1795. He pointed out that we don't know what that means exactly. Was the button made only in 1795? Was the first appearance of the button in 1795 and how long was it made?  A few answers and lots more questions. But from now on I can say that the best button from Ft St George was found under what is -- in my opinion -- the best cannon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Then and Now: The Trials and Tribulations of the Tropics! . . . October 30,2009

By Elizabeth Stone, Volunteer

Day 1

Today we went out to the Cay and met our fellow adventurists...a really fascinating bunch from all over...3 Phd's, a professional underwater photographer, a doctor, a couple of year-rounders, and, of course, us. Armed with machetes, metal detectors, saws and the's focus was on clearing brush around the remnants of a visible structure and looking for artifacts that might indicate its purpose. We did find some shot, pottery shards, some pieces from a musket, and mapped out the original footprint of one of the buildings. My time was spent doing field photography ... shooting people doing whatever they were doing as well as amateur photos of what we found. It was sunny, HOT and buggy (no surprise). There were tons of hermit crabs scuttling everywhere...probably wondering what all the commotion was about...and fire ants (yikes!), that we managed to avoid. This is going to be a LOT of fun. I love meeting new people and, of course, anyone who is interested in history. Funnily enough, the head of the project does sort of look like Indiana Jones. 

The thing that amazes me is the resilience of the soldiers who were stationed here. These Cays are scrubby (not much shade) and I can only imagine their reaction, being dumped here. How did they get water? How did they spend their days? What tools did they have to construct these structures? The boredom, bugs, inhospitable environment, and unrelenting sun....just fires my imagination....and certainly elicits my sympathy. Early to bed tonight because 5:30 a.m. is going to come too quickly. I'm blessing air conditioning right now and the thought of soft sheets...I wouldn't have made a very good colonist.

Day 4

Every day that we are out on the Cay, I compare the obstacles that we face with what the soldiers faced 200 years ago.  While we brought coolers with food and water, metal detectors and machetes, compasses and protractors, cell phones and walkie-talkies, bug spray and sunscreen, the soldiers must have carried little more than basic tools with which to construct buildings, hard tack, water collection implements, and clothing.  But, being English, they also brought dishes and even teacups, according to our finds!  While we have cold water on hand, they had to fetch it and it was never better than tepid.  There is little wildlife on island, so any food they ate, had to come from the sea, the air, or what they grew. When I compare their fortitude and dedication to ours, I feel that we come up short.  They too had to hack through the brush as we are doing...but their intent was to build living quarters and fortifications, while ours is to merely uncover those endeavors.  The brush that thwarts them also thwarts us.

Yet in my view, we don't always come up short.  In watching Don, Neal and Toni I am amazed at their fortitude and dedication and, yes, reverence and respect, for what we are discovering.  They are patient and methodical often seeing a small artifact that is camouflaged by the overgrowth that I would have missed entirely. And when the sun goes down, when the soldiers would have been sleeping, our team is at their maps and computers: measuring, documenting, sourcing and referencing the finds.  So our modern perseverance and diligence is of a different variety and no less impressive.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Trouble with Archaeology is . . . October 29, 2009

By Toni Carrell, Ships of Discovery

I discovered early in my career that archaeologists have this love-hate relationship with artifacts. Or at least I have a love-hate relationship with them. It would be so much fun to just go out and dig up “stuff” and then go back to camp and take a shower and enjoy the evening with a cool drink.  But nooooo.

Hold that thought.

If you’ve been reading the blogs you will know by now that we are dividing the work up into several different tasks. The first task, and one that is ongoing, was to clear away the bush around the known structures on Ft St George Cay.  For the most part all of them were found (and even measured) by the true pioneer explorers of the island:  Brooke Foxe, Jack McWilliams, Walt Brewer, Terry Smith and Lee Smith. In the process we are cutting branches, raking leaf cover, snipping roots, and generally getting hot, sweaty, mosquito bitten and really dirty.

The second task is to connect the various structures – so far we have three distinct locales and a fourth possible.  To do that we have cut what Robert calls “elephant trails” between them.  Our elephants are of the miniature variety and the trail is more a track, but that is another story.  Randy, Will, and Robert have been doing a stellar job on that score.

The third task is to go out and locate previously unknown structures.  That is how Neal managed to get into the Poison Wood.  We are starting a bigger push on that task tomorrow.

The fourth task is to clean up the exposed structures and to begin their documentation. That is where I come in. My job is to draw and measure. But in the process of cleaning up the leaf litter and then exposing the foundations, invariably artifacts show up.  Randy already mentioned the musket furniture we found.  When we find anything, we immediately put in a pin flag – a thin plastic stick with an orange flag. We’ve been very surprised at how many small finds have surfaced in this process.

And here is where my love-hate relationship with artifacts comes in.  Each of these artifacts, the ones that are diagnostic (that is, will tell us something important) and even those that are not (but will give us an idea of general activity areas) must be recorded.  Not just photographed, but their exact location noted. This entails taking measurements from each find to a baseline or other known point. You can think about it almost like a spider web – with all of the lines radiating out from the center to the artifacts at the ends and then connecting to the centers of other spider webs. Each artifact that is collected also gets a number and a little plastic tag so that it can be cross-referenced to the list of measurements.

Other team members are finding artifacts, not just me. So at the end of the day, or whenever I can pry them away from bushwhacking and exploring, I am tracking them down and making sure I can find all of their pin flags. Then Elizabeth and I crawl around on our hands and knees through the bush to get the measurements before the mosquitoes eat us alive or we inhale one that gets too close.  When that happens I am reminded that, “The trouble with archaeology is . . .  the artifacts!”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trail Blazing . . . October 28, 2009

By Neal Hitch

For the last five days we have been cutting paths through the bush on Pine Cay. The first paths are cut with a machete as you try and work your way into the areas that have not been explored. You have to keep your eyes open for the small things. A brick, a small ceramic fragment, or occasionally a cut foundation stone, all are indicators that this area might have been a building within the fort. When small things are found, the area is investigated. If it is determined that the area is a possible building site, a larger trail is cut back to it so that it can be measured from another known location.

Many of the sites that have been located and documented were recorded by individuals in the 1990s. They were the real trail blazers, exploring and documenting foundations on Pine Cay in the 1990s. We have come to call them the Ft. Georgians. Their records allow us a baseline to assess both erosion and degradation of the site. Locating the known sites on Ft. George was the first priority. We are now beginning to explore for unknown sites.

Yesterday, I came across a tree that had been blown over during the September Hurricanes. There was a piece of copper stuck in the roots. As I worked to remove the copper object I found fragments of glazed storage containers. I brought the metal detector back to the site and located several iron artifacts like brackets and nails. I then came across a pewter button with a crown in the center. Ah, a button from the coat of a regular British infantry uniform. I think I have found a building site, one that has not been located before. I cut my way out in two different directions so that we can link back to where others were working.

Today, I returned to Grand Turk to produce some maps of the areas we have been documenting. I woke up this morning with a new surprise from my trail blazing efforts yesterday. My arms are covered with Poison Wood burns. Poison Wood is a tree that is like poison ivy on steroids. Its leaves are covered with a oil produces a chemical burn when you touch it. We have been warned to look out for it. I guess I was so focused on the small stuff I neglected to look out for the big stuff. It is miserable, I must say, and I am glad I am not in the bush today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When the going gets tough . . . October 27, 2009

By Donald H Keith

We knew before we started that Ft St George has an underwater component as well as the walls and foundations that we are uncovering on land. People have been finding artifacts on the beach for decades and literally thousands of snorkelers have seen the cannons lying in shallow water, half buried in sand. So yesterday most of us spent 5 hours in the water combing the shallows West of Ft. George looking for clues to how much of the island—and the fort itself—have eroded into the sea. While one group concentrated on the cannons, now 50 meters offshore, Toni and Randy moved farther to the North where they bumped into a strange submerged wooden structure about 10 meters long by 6 meters wide. We still don’t know what it is: a dock? A quay of some kind? But it does seem to belong to the fort.

Being primarily an underwater archaeologist, I can’t help but wistfully reflect on how much easier it is to work underwater than on land. Underwater you never sweat. You don’t have to wear a hat and smear your body with sun block to keep skin cancer at bay. You don’t get that raging thirst that invariably accompanies hard work. There are no annoying mosquitoes or gnats hovering around your head like a curse. Your feet don’t get tired because you are essentially weightless. Not only weightless, but your buoyancy control device enables you to lift gigantic weights effortlessly. Water gives every diver super-human powers. That’s why everyone was so delighted to have a day in the water yesterday.

We are making wonderful progress in spite of the heat, humidity, and complicated logistics. I just hope we can keep it up. Yesterday morning we had an impromptu “my insect bites, coral scrapes, plant burns, scratches and rashes are worse than yours!” comparison on the beach. It was a draw between Will’s ankles and Toni’s arms.

For the last three days we’ve been trying to connect three structures by clearing straight lines through the undergrowth so we can measure the exact distances between them. You can’t clear dense bush in shorts and flip-flops. The more clothes you wear the better protected you are--but it can get pretty hot and sweaty. The real, ever-present danger is dehydration and heat-related injury. We picked this time of year because it usually starts to cool off in October, but it now seems that we may have started a little too early. Yesterday it was 95 degrees and it always feels like 90 percent humidity.

One of our biggest concerns is avoiding “Poison Wood” trees that grow all over the island. Robert showed us some photos he found on the internet of a poor soul who tangled with one on Grand Turk. It didn’t say whether he survived. The problem for us as we’re trying to clear tunnels through the dense bush is that they are a little tricky to identify. So far no one has encountered one (or started to show symptoms yet!), but it remains a constant source of concern. It reminds Toni and I of a plant they warned us about when we worked in Panama – “tu toca tu mata” “you touch it you die” … or wish you did.

JFK's Golf Clubs . . . October 26, 2009

By Randy Davis, Ships of Discovery

Many people ask me what archeologists do. “Are you a treasure hunter?” Yes I am but not like most people think. My treasure and what gives the value to any object, be it a car or a piece of furniture, is the story.

Think of it like this. The treasure hunter goes down to the beach where he heard there were some golf clubs spotted. He quickly scours the area and finds 3 -- a 9 iron, a 6 iron, and a 3 iron from 1954. He calls a club dealer and finds out these are worth $29 a piece—great. The archeologist, however, goes back to the site and carefully excavates the area and eventually finds a bag with several other clubs in it. He notices that the monogram on the bag is JFK. In this example, now we have a story; the real treasure and what gives value to the objects.

Today in the overgrowth of the original fort we found 2 pieces of what we thought were musket furniture (see image at left) —the parts of metal on the gun (see image below). At first we were not sure about them, but it had markings that if deciphered could help tell the story of Fort St. George. Now the detective work begins. It is a 200 year old CSI case.

As soon as we got back to our quarters I reexamined the piece to see if there were any clues we overlooked in the field. Then I began a search that 30 years ago when I started in archeology could have taken 6 months. By the time you called a few people and found out who to send a picture to, developed your pictures, sent them, and they responded with a call or letter that they had no idea but they sent them to another museum curator and he would call me, it could easily be months. Today, however, with the internet, databases, E-mail, and cell phones, this process is shortened so that many of these searches can begin in the field.

The internet search was of no help. There was nothing under musket images or general information on the web. Thankfully, an article we have from the Parks Canada was a winner. I was able to pull up weapons from a shipwreck done several decades ago that had the exact same object—a wrist escutcheon from a musket. Great! Part of the story was answered. But what did those letters and numbers mean that were on the piece? In the Canadian report it was thought that these symbols were to identify where the musket was stored. We hope there is more to it than that. An E-mail was sent to an associate that is an expert on small arms. We will continue to investigate the site and other objects until we can tell the story of Fort St. George.

Meanwhile the search continues…

Monday, October 26, 2009

Andrea to the Rescue . . . October 25, 2009

By Robert Krieble, Ships of Discovery

As a kid I remember a dinner time conversation between my Father and Grandfather discussing the cannons off Fort George. I couldn't believe that "real cannons" could be right there in the water across from Pine Cay and nobody had gone and taken them away. Since then I have continued to find Fort George and its famous cannons fascinating and hope in the future I will be able to show my children the cannons and fort I found so impressive as a child. The urgent need to document and preserve this site as it literally erodes in front of our eyes is why I am very excited to be invited back to work with the museum after my initiation into archaeology on the 2008 Trouvadore expedition. With Fort George dominating the view from our house on Pine Cay, this project is truly right in my backyard. As a result of my proximity and familiarity with the island and the responsibility of arranging for transportation to the job site I have not been able to spend as much time as everyone else on Ft. George.

Instead I have had the jobs of water taxi driver, marine mechanic, carpenter and general gofer (go for this...go for that...).

Trying to do multiple things at once makes it very easy to forget something important. We have had problems with our smaller Boston Whaler since the beginning of the trip. When cold it’s very difficult to start. As a result we drained the battery multiple times trying to start the boat. Each time we killed the battery it would go on the charger for a few hours and we would try again. Eventually the boat is started and off we go to the site. We finish the day and I swim out to the boat and expect it will start up perfectly. Instead the battery explodes the instant I touch the key, the team on shore hears the loud bang and smoke pours out of the central console. Luckily there was no fire and nobody was injured. We are now stranded, tired and dehydrated. The marine staff on Pine Cay was gone as was their boat. Fortunately my wife Andrea who is four months pregnant had a set of keys for the 27' Whaler and the skill to drive it to Fort George and quickly rescue us. Our hero quickly arrives and casually tows us back home. So, from the whole team, THANKS ANDREA!

I on the other hand feel a little stupid because if I had checked the water level in the battery after charging it could have avoided the entire problem.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Artifacts Everywhere . . . October 24, 2009

By Neal V. Hitch, Museum Director

This was our second day on Ft George Cay. One thing is clear. There are a lot more artifacts than we thought there were.

The hurricanes of last September wreaked havoc and accelerated the erosion on known foundations. We have found several ceramic artifacts in the water and in the exposed cliff where the beach is slowly claiming the fort. Many of these ceramics are the same or similar to those in the Brooke Fox collection, but being able to document similar cultural material in or around the fort foundations gives a context to interpret the artifacts that Brooke Fox donated to the museum.

Today, we continued with clearing brush and locating known sites. In the first two days we have located all of the sites annotated by Walt Brewer on a computer aided drawing completed in 1999. The brush is very dense. It takes a lot of work to clear. And it is very, very hot.

But, we have made more progress than we expected, and have more work cleaning and documenting artifacts than we thought we would, they are everywhere.

Friday, October 23, 2009

In The Beginning . . . October 22, 2009

By Donald H. Keith, Project Director

The first time I heard about Ft. George was almost exactly 18 years ago in October 1981. There was a local uproar about how a fly-by-night treasure hunting outfit called (believe it or not!) “Nomad Treasure Seekers” suddenly appeared off Ft. George Cay and started trying to raise some cannons lying in shallow water just offshore. Fortunately, Nomad’s attempted theft was thwarted by Gary Adkison, then divemaster at the Pine Cay Marina, who confronted them on site and threatened to call the Police. Gary’s saber rattling in combination with the fact that Nomad had neither the equipment nor competence to raise large cannons from chest-deep water encouraged them to move on. But as an archaeologist, I was intrigued: A “fort” in the Turks and Caicos? What did it date to? Who built it? Why was it there? Large cannons in chest deep water? How did that happen? Were they from a shipwreck or what?

Fort George was but one of the many historical mysteries of the Turks and Caicos Islands that I was curious about, but for the next 9 years I was up to my neck in completing the excavation, conservation, and analysis of the Molasses Reef Wreck, now on exhibit in the Turks and Caicos National Museum. Finally, in 1998 my Canadian colleague Jonathan Moore and I were invited to visit Ft. George Cay with Jack McWilliams who, with other Pine Cay residents, had a long-standing interest in the site. Jon and I were fascinated by the cannons offshore, strange holes drilled into the ironshore, and carefully cut and laid stone foundations, now tumbling down from a low prominence as the sea ate away at its base. The dense bush dissuaded us from venturing inland, so we could only wonder what lay in the interior.

The only historical information readily available about Ft. George Cay was a few short paragraphs in “Turks Islands Landfall,” a collection of brief sketches compiled by H.E. Sadler, an amateur but avid historian. He stated that Ft. George was built in 1798 by a British Army contingent in order to protect the Loyalist planters who had moved from the newly-formed United States of America to the Caicos Islands following the Revolution. Apparently, the British Army abandoned the fort a year or two later, after suffering severe losses to disease. There is no mention of any actual combat at the fort.

Now, finally, we have an opportunity to conduct the first archaeological exploration of Ft. George Cay as well as nearby Grouper Cay which is said to have similar ruins on it and may be somehow connected to the fort. Over the next two weeks our team of nine professional archaeologists and volunteers will face a challenging working environment and a tight schedule in the course of trying to answer some of the most basic questions about Ft. George: How much of it is left and how much has already been lost to erosion? Are the ruins on Grouper Cay part of the fort? Can the fort be reconstructed? How much of it is now under water?

We will focus on finding and surveying the ruins and archaeological features, rather than on excavation, which is extremely time-consuming. We will start by mapping the cannons offshore of Ft. George Cay, then connecting them with the features on shore, then moving inland to the partially-eroded foundations and onward, deeper into the island’s interior.

Over the next two weeks different members of the team will contribute their perspectives and observations to this blog, the goal of which is to share with you, the reader, events as they happen, and make you a part of the exploration and discovery experience.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meet the Expedition Team

Ships of Discovery

Dr Donald H. Keith - Trustee of the Turks and Caicos National Museum and lead archaeologist with Ships of Discovery.

Donald Keith is the Principal Investigator of the 2009 Fort St George Archaeological Expedition. Dr Keith is well known in the islands having recently directed the Search for the Slave Ship Trouvadore projects in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Dr. Keith has been the president of Ships of Discovery since its inception in 1989.  A diver since 1969, he has directed field research from the Bahamas to Panama and has participated in shipwreck investigations in more than a dozen foreign countries. From 1980-1988 he directed the excavation, analysis and conservation of the Molasses Reef wreck, the oldest shipwreck found in the Americas. The need for a space to house the conserved artifacts was instrumental in the establishment of the Turks & Caicos National Museum in 1991. The Molasses Reef Wreck is the museum's central exhibit.  Dr. Keith is also a Trustee of the Turks & Caicos National Museum.

Dr Toni L Carrell
Toni Carrell is the Co-Principal Investigator for the 2009 Fort St George Archaeological Expedition.  She served as Co-Principal Investigator for the Search for the Slave Ship Trouvadore project in 2004, 2006, and 2008. She joined Ships of Discovery in 1990 after having worked as an underwater archaeologist for the National Park Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Unit for many years. Carrell has extensive experience investigating shipwrecks from the 1600s to WWII throughout the United States and in several foreign countries. Her primary interest is hull construction. That led her to field directing the excavation of the La Salle shipwreck, La Belle for the Texas Historical Commission in 1997.  Carrell served as Chairman of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology from 1995-2000 and represented the Society for Historical Archaeology during the UNESCO meeting of experts on the development of the international Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001.

Dr Randal Davis
Dr. Davis received his M.A. in underwater archeology in 1978. He has participated in numerous projects including the Padre Island Project, a 1554 Spanish shipwreck under the auspices of the Texas Antiquities Committee-1972; the Mombasa project, a 17th Century Portuguese frigate with the National Museums of Kenya-1978; a 1577 shipwreck in collaboration with the Bermuda Maritime Museum-1989; the Gallega project, a search for a Columbus vessel in association with Ships of Discovery and the Panamanian National Museum-1990 and 1992; The Nina project a caravel reconstruction with Ships of Discovery, Valenca, Brazil-1991; the Endymion site survey with Ships of Discovery and the Turks & Caicos National Museum; and the Trouvadore Project in 2004, 2006 and 2008.  He is also the project diving physician, certified by NOAA in hyperbarics.  His normal practice, however, is Emergency medicine and Tactical medicine in Phoenix, Arizona.

Robert Krieble
Robert Krieble is a Ships of Discovery team member for the 2009 Fort St George Archaeological Expedition. He joined Ships of Discovery for the 2008 Search for the Slave Ship Trouvadore and the US Navy Ships Chippewa and Onkahye Expedition. Robert has had a connection with the Turks and Caicos Islands since he was two years old, when his parents first visited the islands; he has lived there semi-full time since he was ten years old. Born in Canada, Quebec is home when not in the TCI. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal. He has traveled widely, and races in road rallies on a regular basis. However, he is most happy when he is either in or on the water in some way. After participating in the Trouvadore, he volunteered for the 2009 Fort St George project. 

Turks & Caicos National Museum

Dr. Neal V. Hitch
Dr. Neal V. Hitch is the Turks & Caicos National museum director. Dr. Hitch is a historian, preservation architect, and a museum specialist, holding a Master's degree in Architecture and a Ph.D. in History. He specializes in 19th century life, culture, and architecture. From 1997 until summer 2007 he worked for the Ohio Historical Society, a non-profit corporation providing historical services for the State of Ohio. He is a historic housing specialist and has worked on some of the Society’s premier restoration Projects. Dr. Hitch is widely published and was awarded the 2002 Anne de Fort-Menares Award by the Association for Preservation Technology International for his scholarly work on OHS restoration Projects.


Will Allen
I am a photographer/filmmaker and have been working at it for the past 10 years (Will Allen Photo). I studied business and marketing at Concordia University, but found I was getting too busy with work to continue and so reserved the right to return in the future. I have since worked with IMAX on several 3D films around the world and National Geographic on different projects. In the past few years I have been working on the production of a few adventure travel shows for Discovery channel all the while building and opening a British Pub in Montreal, Quebec with a few partners. While I usually enjoy shark photography primarily and spending lots of hours underwater I absolutely love being able to be a part of the Fort St. George project. I feel honored not to have been voted off the island yet and hope that we accomplish what we have set out to do!

Elizabeth Stone

Elizabeth originally transferred to Tufts with the intent of pursuing a combined B.A./M.A in Archaeology. Put off by the Physics course required for the degree, she settled for a B.A. degree in history. Most of her professional experience is with non-profit organizations, focusing on public relations, marketing, event planning and instruction of young people. To the Ft St George Cay Project, she brings her curiosity, wry sense of humor, intellectual enthusiasm and lack of physical stamina. Elizabeth (and David) moved to the TCI, almost full time, in 2008. She has many interests including the TCSPCA and the TCFAF. By volunteering her time, it is her wish to give back to these small islands which have welcomed her so warmly. Plus, she gets to meet really interesting people this way!

David Stone
David worked for 30 years as a professional nature photographer specializing in rare and endangered plants, taught nature photography, and ran photo workshops for 15 years. His stock photos were used in numerous publications such as encyclopedias, National Geographic filmstrips and textbooks. He was the principle photographer for the PBS Television Book "Crockett's Victory Garden Landscape Guide.” In 1983 David created Photographic Solutions, Inc. to sell PEC-12 (R) film and print cleaner, which he invented in 1971. In 1998, he worked with Eastman Kodak to develop the Sensor Swab (R) for cleaning the sensor in their DCS digital cameras. In 2007 David semi-retired from PSI and moved to Providenciales nine months of the year where he volunteers for various projects for DECR, National Trust, the Ed Gartland Youth Center and the Turks & Caicos National Museum. His favorite gig is being Santa Claus for many of the islands' institutions and businesses!

Fort St George Archaeology Project to Get Underway

Ships of Discovery and the Turks & Caicos National Museum are teaming up to delve into one of the most interesting, but little known, stories in the islands. Tiny Fort St George Cay receives nearly 20,000 visitors a year, yet very little is known about the soldiers and civilians who manned the fort in the 1780s. The project to explore the island and to document the remains of the fort begins on October 23 and runs through November 6, 2009.

Stay up to date with our discoveries with the Fort St George Expedition Daily Log