Twelve Atlantic Canadian university students are about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime archaeological expedition in Cuba, spearheaded by Saint Mary’s University’s Department of Anthropology.
From June 1 to 17, students from Saint Mary’s University, the University of New Brunswick, Memorial University, and Dalhousie University will be excavating artifacts at Cuba’s historic Angerona Coffee Plantation. The excavation is in partnership with Havana’s Cabinet of Archeology and the College of San Geronimo. The dig is the first collaboration of its kind between Cuban and North American students and archaeologists.
“I don’t believe anyone in the world is doing anything like this right now,” said Aaron Taylor, an alumnus of Saint Mary’s Anthropology and Atlantic Canada Studies programs who will serve as the program’s instructor.
“One reason we’re being permitted to dig is because we’re from Canada, and Cuba and Canada have a good relationship,” said Taylor. “But the other reason is that Saint Mary’s wants to collaborate and make it a true joint Cuban-Canadian project.”
Angerona is a Cuban national historic site and former slave plantation, 80 kilometres east of Havana. During the 19th century it was one of the largest slave plantations in the Americas—yet little is known about the day-to-day lives of the people who lived there. The Canadian students, as well as a student from Cuba, will work to uncover artifacts and other evidence to create a more complete picture of those lives and how they fit into our knowledge of the Atlantic slave trade.
The trip is the first of what will be at least a five-year partnership between Saint Mary’s, Havana’s Cabinet of Archeology and the College of San Geronimo.
“As the world seems to be dividing into us-vs-them, it’s essential that young people get to experience another culture, one very different from theirs,” said Taylor. “Many Canadians know Cuba by its beaches, but not as much the people and the history. Cuba has been isolated for a long time in so many ways, so this is an exciting time, and an exciting project to be a part of.”