By Jonathan Hanna
“You want pot-trie? Look, I got loads!” The half-naked man was yelling out the window of a small, dilapidated board-house, shaking a bowl full of prehistoric ceramic sherds.
I looked up. “No, no, I’m just trying to find the boundaries of the site, thanks.”
The man mumbled something as his face turned sour. “Eh, so ya pay dat man and not me?” A machete appeared next to his bowl of ceramics. I apologised, but he kept yelling as I walked away.
The man was right: I did pay the landowner a few dollars to survey a site (Montreuil) on his property, but this guy doesn’t own any land — he’s a squatter. And I certainly don’t want to encourage his looting activities.
As I got closer to the river, footpaths were running in all directions, dodging feral gardens and old plantation walls to connect myriad shacks like this one. With that amount of people, it would be difficult to investigate further. I headed back to my jeep and decided to give up on Montreuil.
That was last year, when I began an archaeological survey project to assess the locations, sizes, and chronologies of every pre-historic site in Grenada as part of my Ph.D. dissertation.
As a major entry point into the Caribbean, Grenada was likely a landmark to pre-historic mariners traveling to and from mainland South America. Yet, in comparison to the Greater Antilles, much of the Lesser Antilles have been under-researched. And Montreuil is one of just two inland sites known in Grenada – all the others are within a few hundred meters of a beach.
Grenada is like a second home to me now. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I had already learned its culture, its language, its politics, and its poverty before my Fulbright experience. But it was exactly that experience that made my project so feasible.
Who else was better placed to, “empower local people to become stewards of their cultural resources,” than an archaeologist who had already lived and breathed that culture for years in the Peace Corps?
My counterpart in the Ministry of Tourism (Michael Jessamy) agreed, and he wrote a strong letter of support for my application.
The aim of the project is to expand public outreach and awareness of Amerindian sites, while simultaneously conducting fieldwork for my dissertation.
Since I arrived in February, I’ve given a few public lectures, surveyed several sites, helped catalogue most of the Grenada National Museum’s collection, and created a massive inventory of all the pre-historic sites on the island.
With the help of Rob Olendorf, a data librarian at Penn State, we are now converting that inventory into a web database, which offers basic information to the public and varying degrees of access to professional researchers and government officials.
Jessamy and I also put together a series of informational signs that will be installed at five of Grenada’s rock art sites. This “Petroglyph Path” tour is something he has long wanted to do, and with the help of a grant from the Africana Research Center at Penn State, we are finally printing the signs and getting ready to install them.
The final stop on Petroglyph Path is the Mt. Rich Petroglyphs — three boulders in an inland river, loaded with over 60 engravings dating between AD 800-1600.
With the help of another organisation (MAREP), Jessamy and I helped train a youth group to offer tours of Mt. Rich. One of the group members took an interest in my project, and we decided to investigate a little-studied settlement up the river from the petroglyphs — a site called Montreuil. But this time, there were no machete-wielding squatters yelling.
Instead, neighbours cheerily passed by to ask questions and see the progress of our excavation. Some of them brought artifacts they found in their gardens and invited me to look around. It was a totally different experience from last year! They even made a big pot of oil-down (the national dish) on the last day.
Clearly, by taking the time to engage the right people, I could be wildly more successful and impactful.
Fulbright has given me the opportunity to do this, and it’s paying off.
And by the way, Montreuil turns out to be a huge site — perhaps not unlike the impact this community has now had on me.
(Jonathan Hanna is a doctoral candidate in anthropology, College of the Liberal Arts, and a Fulbright Fellow through December 2017.
Penn State students and alumni are traveling around the world to conduct research, teach English, attend master’s degree programs and more as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, a highly sought-after international educational exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State.
Nine Penn Staters earned Fulbright awards for the 2017-18 academic year.