The 2017/2018 Field School held from
May 15 to 30, 2018 at White Marl Archaeological Site, St Catherine
The Archaeology Field School

Archaeology Field School 2018

2018 Archaeological Field School Report

The UWI Mona, Department of History and Archaeology

White Marl Archaeological Site

 2018 White Marl Field School (May 15-May 30)

The 2018 UWI Mona Archaeological Field School investigated areas of significance at one of the most important archaeological sites on the island of Jamaica—the White Marl Taíno settlement. The size and rich archaeological record of this settlement is testament to the lifeways and deathways of some of the First Jamaicans, going back over 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately, its present-day location along the busy and expanding Nelson Mandela highway and surrounding residential and corporate area threatens the existence of this significant cultural resource.

 A snapshot of the 3D model created from a drone survey of the White Marl landscape. The boundaries of the study area are shown with the red dashed box. The UWI Mona team focused in the area marked with the red star.

This ten-day experience for UWI Mona students was a part of two months of fieldwork organized around a three-way collaboration including Leiden University (Netherlands) and their NEXUS1492 initiative[1] and supervised by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT). Students were provided the chance to take part in a style of development-driven archaeology, while also contributing to a research project that seeks to clarify the character and occupation history of the White Marl settlement despite previous efforts (see Allsworth-Jones 2008; Howard 1950, 1956, 1965; Silverberg et al. 1972; St. Clair 1970; Vanderwal 1967a, 1967b, 1968; Wesler 2013). The UWI Mona 2018 field crew included second year undergraduates Mr. David Elliot, Mr. Karjen Murray and Ms. Shanice Rhoden, along with student volunteers interested in archaeology, including Mr. Samuel Brown, Ms. Julessa Graham, Ms. Britanyanae Jacas, and Mr. Reece Norton-Fisher. This team was under the supervision of a UWI Mona graduate student in Anthropology, Mr. John Shorter, the UWI Mona Archaeology Lab Technologist, Mr. Clive Grey, the Lecturer in Archaeology, Dr. Zachary J. M. Beier, as well as Dr. Hayley Mickleburgh, a bioarchaeologist and NEXUS1492 post-doctoral researcher. The involvement of archaeologists and students from The UWI Mona was made possible by a research grant from the Office of the Campus Principal.


Dr. Hayley Mickleburgh supervises UWI Mona undergraduates and local laborers with unit excavation. 

Work in the summer of 2018 involved excavation and documentation of archaeological stratigraphy as well as drone fly overs and site mapping using a total station theodolite (TST) for the creation of accurate maps and 3D models of the current White Marl landscape. The UWI Mona team focused in a large mounded midden/refuse area in the southern portion of the White Marl development corridor. This zone is located along the edge of the current boundary for the Nelson Mandela Highway that was cut during the initial construction of the road in the 1940s (see Figure 1). Historically, this roadwork is known to have disturbed a large portion of the site including many Taino burials. The larger JNHT team opened up excavation units in both mounded and flat areas throughout the development corridor.  


The UWI Mona team screening and collecting artifacts from the excavated soil.

 During the period of excavation, The UWI Mona team completed seven one-metre by one-metre excavation units that form a trench measuring five-metres by two-metres (see Figure 4). Excavations explored this occupation mound to a maximum depth of 1.5 metres. We recorded at least 13 sequential levels of geological and cultural stratigraphy in our excavation area, which provides a clearer understanding of the formation and occupation history of the mounds at White Marl. Cultural layers likely extend below this depth of 1.5 metres, especially in the western portion of our excavation zone, but time and budgetary constraints prevented further investigation. The depth of archaeological deposits in this area underscore the intensive and continuous nature of occupation among the Jamaican Taíno at White Marl.


 Looking south towards the Nelson Mandela highway over the occupation mound excavated by The UWI Mona team

 The UWI team systematically collected thousands of artifacts at controlled depths of 10-centimetre arbitrary layers. Artifact analysis of these context-controlled assemblages is on-going and an inventory detailing the types and abundance of the recovered evidence will be completed as soon as possible. This dense concentration of ceramic vessels, stone tools, animal bones, shell, and other artifacts is testament to the everyday lives of Jamaicans over 1000 years ago (see Figures 7-12). In particular, the large collections of food remains and pottery can be further investigated by specialist researchers to understand foodways and ceramic manufacture and trade at White Marl. Additionally, scientific dating (e.g. radiocarbon) of evidence (shell, animal bone) sampled and exported by Dr. Hayley Mickleburgh to labs in the Netherlands with the permission of the JNHT will provide an accurate chronology in calendrical years of the occupation of White Marl in this zone. All recovered materials will be transferred to the headquarters of the JNHT for long-term curation once processing is completed.


 UWI Mona student Julessa Graham uses nails and flagging tape to mark the complex layering of soil and artifacts.

 Perhaps the most important find during the recent field campaign in this zone was a human burial in seated position. This burial is impressive based on its level of preservation as well as its unique position. We completed 15 layers of delicate excavation to systematically reveal, document, and remove this burial feature in situ. We created a 3D model of this individual at each layer demonstrating its position and preservation at the time of discovery. So far, seated burials have been identified at archaeological sites in the Lesser and Greater Antilles, but no examples have ever been systematically documented in Jamaica. Preliminary analysis reveals this individual is an adult male between 20 and 30 years of age. He demonstrates the cranial modification seen with other Taino burials that flattened the forehead. Interestingly, this individual was positioned and buried using at least 40 cobble to boulder size stones. He was not interred with a ceramic vessel as is typical with Jamaican Taino burials and seen in other excavation areas at White Marl. But, a remarkable shell adornment with incised geometric lines was recovered in a top layer of this feature, possibly suggesting the intentional placement of this object with the deceased. This burial feature will be further studied in relation to other burials identified at White Marl by the JNHT to more accurately understand mortuary practices among the Jamaican Taíno.


 A snapshot of the 3D model created from photographs of the seated burial excavated by The UWI Mona team

 This year’s archaeology summer field school continued the tradition of hands-on research and training that has become synonymous with this annual offering from the Department of History and Archaeology. Detailed excavations at White Marl and on-going advanced analysis of the available archaeological evidence, including spatial features, ceramic materials, stone artifacts and human burials, will surely preserve portions of the site threatened by human and natural impacts. Additionally, further research, scientific publications, and other forms of public outreach via diverse sets of media and museum approaches will contribute to a new chapter in Jamaican pre-colonial history with data and interpretations that appeal to a growing contingent in society interested in indigenous culture. Perhaps most importantly, this project provides students with an accessible experience that can serve as a foundation for future professional practice as well as a means to connect with their Jamaican heritage. The completion of summer work and further efforts at White Marl demonstrate the leading role of The Department of History and Archaeology at The UWI Mona in this aspect of Jamaica’s cultural industry, while also reinforcing national and international collaboration with stakeholders and experts in the field of archaeological heritage management.


Project Bibliography

Allsworth-Jones, Philip. 2008. Pre-Columbian Jamaica. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Howard, Robert R. 1950. The Archaeology of Jamaica and Its Position in Relation to Circum-Caribbean Culture. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor.

Howard, Robert R. 1956. The Archaeology of Jamaica: A Preliminary Survey. American Antiquity 22(1):45- 59.

Howard, Robert R. 1965. New Perspectives on Jamaican Archaeology. American Antiquity 31:250-255.

Silverberg, J., R. L. Vanderwal, and E. Wing. 1972. The White Marl Site in Jamaica: Report of the 1964 Robert R. Howard Excavation. In ms. on file at the Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee.

St. Clair, James 1970. Problem Orientated Archaeology. Jamaica Journal 4(1):7-10.

Vanderwal, R. L. 1967a. The Prehistory of Jamaica: A Ceramic Study. Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Vanderwal, R. L. 1967b. Summer Excavation Program. Archaeology Jamaica 67(8):2-3.

Vanderwal, R. L. 1968. Preliminary Report on 1968 Season. Report on file at the Institute of Jamaica, Kingston.

Wesler, Kit. 2013. Jamaica. In The Oxford Handbook of Caribbean Archaeology, edited by W. F. Keegan, C. L. Hofman, and R. R. Ramos, pp.250-263. Oxford University Press, New York.


Prepared by Zachary J. M. Beier, PhD, The UWI Mona, Jamaica