Editorial

By Carver, Martin | Antiquity, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Carver, Martin, Antiquity


* A sea-girt island with a giant reputation, a once all-conquering cricket team and a bard beloved the world over--I'm talking, of course, about Jamaica, where the World Archaeological Congress 2007 was convened in May by a local committee chaired by Ainsley Henriques. It was supposed to be a full congress (WAC 6), but this appeared to the WAC committee to have been financially unviable--a paradox since WAC was largely set up to bring archaeology to the developing countries of the world. Since WAC 5 was held in Washington DC and WAC 6 is now to be in Dublin (2008), neither of which qualifies as 'developing', this goal seems to be in temporary abeyance. The Kingston conference was therefore an 'inter-congress' and none the worse for that. Never has a group of delegates been made so welcome and given so many reasons to be glad they belong to such a profession as ours. A practical course in surfing was about the only omission in a week that included visits to Port Royal, the tombs of the heroes and the shrines of Bob Marley, as well as a drumming festival, the enchanting dancing of local colleges and an open air concert to celebrate National Labour Day with the likes of Bushman, Prophet and the One Thirds on stage, attended by 2000 rapturous teenagers--and John Prescott, then deputy prime minister of another sea-girt island.

Global congresses now sometimes resemble world fairs with dozens of presentations in parallel, and the audience has to seek what it knows how to seek, as on the internet. How much better to be obliged to attend a single session, where the surprising and the unknown are continual rewards from papers one had ignorantly intended to avoid. Too much choice, it seems, narrows the mind. In a small, focused and friendly gathering on the University of the West Indies campus at Kingston, archaeologists from 14 countries exchanged experiences and learnt a great deal about the archaeology of the Caribbean. There were too many good things in this conference to itemise all, and it is to be hoped that much will soon appear in print--some of it in this journal.

The archaeology of Jamaica occupies one of the world's great maritime spaces. The first people to arrive in this paradise came from South America or Mayan Mesoamerica about AD 650 (radiocarbon) and settled as the Tainos, making red pottery and living on the beach. A second group (the Meillacans), making white pottery, became evident after AD 900, settled more widely inland and had a ball game. It was their descendants who met Columbus in 1494, were promptly conscripted as forced labour and very soon wiped out by Spanish settlers or their diseases. The importation of African slave labour by Europeans began in the early sixteenth century, at first for the gold and silver mines of Central America, and continued over the next two centuries by the English to serve the new industries of imported agriculture. In this age of enterprise and coercion, plants were secret weapons, crossing all over the high seas crouched in their timber forecastles: sugar cane from Southeast Asia and the Canary islands, mango from India and coffee, first enjoyed in the droppings of an Ethiopian goat, found its way to Jamaica's Blue Mountains. Breadfruit was introduced from Tahiti by Captain Bligh, after a little local difficulty on the Bounty, while the Africans themselves brought the ackee tree, still providing Jamaica's traditional breakfast of ackee and saltfish. As the campus of UWI illustrates, early African settlement can be tracked not only by the ruined aqueducts that drove the sugar mills, but by the sites of the old ackee trees that still flourish. Modern Jamaica has a wondrous popular mix, slaves who broke away to established Maroon communities, Hispanics, a sturdy Jewish community, later English ex-pats (such as Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond and step-father to Chris Blackwell, Bob Marley's record producer) and of course the inheritors of the government yards in Trenchtown. …

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