Tucked away behind the grey stone Chapel on the University of the West Indies‘ (UWI) Mona campus in Kingston is the Book-keeper‘s Cottage. It is small and solid and is one of the few original plantation buildings left on this beautiful swathe of land that rolls out at the foot of the forested hills. The University’s 653 acres once formed part of two sugar estates, Mona and Papine. There are fragmented ruins (a water wheel, an aqueduct) scattered throughout the campus among the modern university buildings.
The Cottage now houses UWI’s Archaeology Lab. This is where I met up again with U.S. Fulbright Scholar Heidi Savery, along with the lively group of students from the Department and from U.S. colleges. Some were sitting outside writing up notes; inside, they were analyzing, sorting, bringing records up to date. All the students looked much cleaner and tidier than two days previously, amidst the windswept dust and heat. They were conducting excavations at Fort Rocky, near Port Royal (see my earlier post). Now the atmosphere was relaxed, but they were all working hard to finish things off. The Archaeological Field School at Fort Rocky was over, and the summer has arrived, with the heat seeping in from the coast.
I met up with Oshane Robinson and Adrian Reid, who are President and Vice President of UWI’s History and Archaeological Society, respectively. Adrian just completed his final year and hopes to work with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. He grew up in a rural area of western Jamaica and went to Rusea’s High School in Lucea, Hanover, which has an interesting history of its own. There, he says his history teacher greatly influenced him and it was always his favorite subject. A natural fit. The Society conducts the only heritage tours of the Mona campus authorized by the University, in a beautifully decorated van. It is actively involved in UWI’s Research Days, too. And Adrian told me that the Society provides a great deal of guidance to first year students, helping them to link history, heritage and archaeology.
I also chatted with Max, an anthropology student who will be conducting community research with the Jamaican Social Development Commission during the summer. The other Jamaican students who had been working at Fort Rocky were Melissa Bryan, Keresha Barr and Kwame Clarke (I hope I got their names right…)
While I was in the Cottage I browsed through some Taino exhibits. Heidi told me about Dr. James W. Lee, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, who arrived in Jamaica in 1951, and settled here. Dr. Lee used to work for the bauxite firm Alpart (Alumina Partners of Jamaica), and as such traveled round the island prospecting (and, one presumes, doing a bit of digging). He developed a passion for archaeology in Jamaica, and especially for Taino relics; he began mapping Taino sites in 1959. Dr. Lee was not an academic in the strictest sense – that is, he did not work at an academic institution. His daughter Wendy observes, “I have never known a researcher as meticulous and thorough as my father. He founded the Archaeological Society of Jamaica and published a quarterly newsletter for 25 years without a single interruption. He used this medium to document and publicly share the results of his explorations and research. He read widely, including all the original sources of information about the ‘discovery’ of the Caribbean islands (in Spanish, French and German) and used this knowledge to inform his work in the field. My father devised a classification system for the artifacts he collected, and every piece was labeled and accounted for; each stone artifact was also described, measured and the stone and its source identified. He made detailed maps of every new or rediscovered archaeological site (he was also a trained surveyor). He was the author of numerous articles on Jamaican archaeology and geology, published in relevant professional journals.” Dr. Lee’s wonderful collection (which he had hoped to house in a museum at his residence in Runaway Bay) was donated to the University in 2000, thus enriching our knowledge.
By the way, we used to call Jamaica’s first nation people the “Arawak Indians.” Nowadays we are calling them the “Taino” people. But can I tell you something? I am not quite sure I understand what the difference is. I do wish someone would enlighten me. I can’t help still thinking of them as Arawaks.
Meanwhile, back at the Cottage it was group photo time, before everyone said their goodbyes – at least on the work part of the field trip. I believe some social events were planned over the weekend. The students and professors gathered on the porch and posed beautifully (well, some of them perhaps not particularly elegant, but…) See the results below.
The afternoon waned. Grackles strutted in the grass outside and music played somewhere, as the group drifted off, in ones and twos and threes. The end of a great project – but there will be many more to come.
Many thanks to Heidi Savery for allowing me to get to know this wonderful group. I wish them all the best for the future, as they all go their separate ways, and hope they will all keep in touch with each other. These times spent together, working as a team, are invaluable.
Related articles and links:
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/revealing-the-silences-of-the-past/ Revealing the silences of the past: petchary.wordpress.com
http://myspot.mona.uwi.edu/history/ Department of History and Archaeology/University of the West Indies Mona Campus
http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780817382551 Project Muse, Johns Hopkins University: Pre-Columbian Jamaica, by Phillip Allsworth-Jones (you may have to log in to this site)
http://myspot.mona.uwi.edu/history/staff/lenik-steve Lecturer Dr. Steve Lenik’s profile, Department of History and Archaeology
4 thoughts on “At the Book-keeper’s Cottage”
Thanks so much, Emma. I wrote his Obituary and will send it to you.
I look forward to that, Wendy!
Emma, James W. Lee was my father. I guess if you regard an ‘academic’ as someone employed to an educational institution, you would be correct to say he was “not an academic.” However, I have never known a researcher as meticulous and thorough as my father. He founded the Archaeological Society of Jamaica and published a quarterly newsletter for 25 years without a single interruption, and used this medium to document and publicly share the results of his explorations and research. He read widely, including all the original sources of information about the ‘discovery’ of the Caribbean islands (in Spanish, French and German) and used this knowledge to inform his work in the field. My father devised a classification system for the artifacts he collected, and every piece was labelled and accounted for; each stone artifact was also described, measured and the stone and its source identified. He made detailed maps of every new or rediscovered archaeological site (he was also a trained surveyor). He was the author of numerous articles on Jamaican archaeology and geology, published in relevant professional journals. Sorry to go on so, but I’ve heard him referred to as an ‘amateur’ archaeologist by certain ‘academics’ and nothing could be further from the truth! Thank you for writing about him. He was a great man!
Wendy! That’s amazing!! I had no idea. Isn’t that wonderful. I tried to dig up as much information as I could about him online but noticed that clearly he did document a great deal in meticulous fashion, as you said. I put a link at the end to a book that was published fairly recently. I am sorry if I over-emphasized the “amateur” as opposed to “academic” – this is what I did pick up and it is clearly not fair! So I am going to rewrite that little paragraph and if you don’t mind, I will include some of your comments. I don’t want to leave it like that. You must be VERY proud of your father, and I am sure you want the record to be set straight. Certainly my friend Heidi was full of praise for him and told me how hugely important his contribution was. Thanks for telling me some more about him, and I will share your comments with her. (Heidi will be working part-time in the Archaeology Dept. from next semester).