Friday, December 15, 2017

Needed: qualified archaeologists


READY TO GO: Archaeological Field Training Class at entrance to Lopinot Complex. —Photos courtesy Heather-Dawn Herrera

Mark Fraser

Trinidad and Tobago is a Republic consisting of two small islands that jointly support a population of 1.3 million. This means that there is limited available land space to satisfy the needs of an increasing population. Availability of land space is being challenged every year by major construction of industrial and housing developments and quarrying.

From an archaeological perspective much of our past is being buried under such expansion and or destroyed by the blasting and resulting debris from quarrying operations. The quarrying of available land to cover even more available land means sacrifice of our physical history on a major scale. The question is how much evidence of our past have we lost already and further, what does the future hold for meaningful research when this crucial part of our history is buried forever.

Jalaludin Khan of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago sees the immediate need for human resource development to implement archaeological management systems.

“There are no qualified national archaeologists in Trinidad and Tobago. We need qualified archaeologists and heritage management specialists in the Government agencies of Trinidad and Tobago. Archaeological professionals are greatly needed for example in the Customs and Excise Division for trade and import and export control of archaeological artefacts and in educational institutions such as UTT, UWI, the National Museum and the proposed archaeological institute for research and study of archaeological heritage collections in the field and in museum collections.”

The Archaeological Field Training Class spearheaded by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago and UTT found this to be a daunting situation as Dr Neal Lopinot, coordinator for the session led participants among archaeological sites in the valley of Lopinot.

Participants included representatives from the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs, Town and Country Planning Division, the Environmental Management Authority, the Moruga Museum and the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community.

Dr Lopinot is an archaeological researcher on Trinidad Archaeology and Lopinot Estate History with the Centre for Archaeological Research, Missouri State University, USA. He is an archaeologist of 40 years standing and has been coming to Trinidad since 2003. He has done work supported by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago in the northern range valleys of Lopinot and Caura and Malchan Hill in the Central Range.

Archaeological testing and limited archaeological surveys were previously undertaken by Dr Lopinot in the Lopinot Valley and this resulted in the recovery of pottery sherds, worked lithics and pieces of quartz. Some of the items unearthed date back to AD1400, AD900 and even as far back as AD600.

The field training class visited some of these sites where Dr Lopinot explained the history of the then villages occupying the area and demonstrated the identification and recovery of archaeological items.

“People tend to live today where people lived in the past. We need to understand where their resources were manufactured and how they were used or traded. However because of the lack of related education in the present time artefacts are raked away during maintenance of parks for example as in the case of the Lopinot Complex where daily maintenance entails the clearing away of leaf litter and other debris. To the east of the nearby river, an alluvial flat where there were potential findings of artefact, this has been covered by debris from the quarrying of the hill above.”

Artefacts are being unearthed literally in people’s backyards and gardens. Most of the current working sites are located on private lands. Residents have expressed their pleasure at having the archaeological team alerting them to the fact that their valley of Lopinot is even far richer than they had ever envisaged. Amerindian sites as well as those of African slaves have been uncovered. The community is grateful for this ongoing practical education. The rich history of Lopinot is about to be further enriched by this missing piece of the physical past. People have committed to using caution in the use of their land space and will certainly support the implementation and enforcement of archaeological sites management policies.

Khan drew attention to the fact that existing copies of maps of archaeological sites in Trinidad and Tobago have not been updated for quite some time.

“The Town and Country Planning Division and UWI do have maps of archaeological sites but they do not reflect recently discovered sites. These maps must be updated so that there will be critical next steps such as the development and time-tabled implementation of an archaeological management policy that is linked to an integrated system of planning, control, enforcement, development of research, monitoring and education in which line agencies work together.

“Key agencies to lead this are Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration for legislative policy implementation, Town and Country Planning Division and the Environmental Management Authority for archaeological sites management, control and enforcement. The political will is needed to do this now.”