Discoveries About Slave Plantation in Dominica

Mark Hauser, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, visited St. Mary’s College on Nov. 7 as part of the Department of Anthropology’s Distinguished Scholar Program. His lecture focused on archaeological research he conducted in Dominica in the Caribbean, which he titled, “Slavery’s Material Record: A Comparison of Everyday Life at Two Plantation Settlements in Dominica, West Indies.”

Along with his lecture, he also visited some of the anthropology classes in order to speak further on his study and answer questions that the anthropology students might have had.

“Mark has been extremely productive as a scholar,” said Interim Chair of the Anthropology Department and Professor Bill Roberts as he introduced Hauser before his lecture. “He’s published widely and reviewed widely in a number of anthropology and archaeology journals.”

Hauser’s study focuses primarily on archaeological remnants of material cultures from the past and using his data in order to better understand the culture of slavery in Dominica’s past. His lecture focused mainly on the two different plantations of Bois Cotlette and Sugar Loaf.

These sugar plantations were homes to many slaves and Hauser’s goal is to better understand these sub-cultures by piecing together the archaeological data that they have left behind. There often are silences within historical texts that go unnoticed, explained Hauser. “We need to know not only what these records say, but what is missing [from them].”

Despite the extreme difficulty of successfully creating and maintaining a workable dig site in the Caribbean, due to the ever present threat of hurricanes, mudslides, and other natural disasters, Hauser was still able to find enough data to compare both plantations side by side to better understand them.

“The comparative study was really interesting,” said senior Mala Owings, “because differences in lifeways can be pulled out of obvious archaeological material records, which is what we’ve been learning [in classes]. So watching someone basing their analysis of lifeways on these obvious material remains is really fascinating.”

In his study he was able to delve so deeply into the culture of these plantation slaves, that he was able to display battleship curves to the audience and describe commonalities and differences between age, sex, and ancestry of the slaves within the two different sites.

While archaeologists can always consult maps, legal codes, the geographic information system (GIS), and historical documents, finding artifacts is one of the most important ways of understanding different cultures. According to Hauser, they connect us to networks, both planned and unexpected.

“I found him entertaining in the classroom environment and his passion for his work was self-evident,” said junior Virginia Williams. “It made me want to read and hear more about what he had to say about the ceramics created in the Caribbean, the hybridization of different cultures in the form of ceramics, and what their uses were.”

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