Policy Initiatives: International Issues: Bahamas: Archaeological Resources

By Laurie A. Wilkie, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

The Clifton Property is a unique, intact, integrated, historical archaeological landscape that represents a microcosm of New World history. The archaeological resources on the land depict the first inhabitants of the Bahamas, the Lucayan Indians-the first Native peoples of the New World to be victims of genocide at the hands of Spanish Colonizers. Represented at Clifton is the West African slave trade-a story that combines both the senseless human tragedy of enslavement and the cultural triumph of African peoples in the creation of the African Diaspora.
doorwayClifton’s archaeological resources demonstrate the cultural and familial links between the African peoples of the Caribbean and the African peoples of the United States. The archaeological resources of Clifton also incorporate the experiences of Bahamians after the abolition of enslavement. Archaeological resources tell of Bahamian daily life through the 1960s. No where else in the Bahamas or the rest of the Caribbean am I aware of so much New World history compacted into just a 200acre parcel. The archaeological time depth of the Clifton Property begins at 1000AD-1500AD, begins again in the 1730s, extending through continuously until the 1960s. It is truly an archaeological treasure.

While the archaeological resources of Clifton Plantation represent a unique opportunity to study and preserve not just Bahamian, but New World history as a whole, the experiences of the people who lived and died on Clifton also make them a spiritual place. As part of the archaeological remains on the property are the buried loved ones of Lucayan Indians and enslaved Africans and their ancestors.

Preservation of bone is such in the northern Bahamas that these burials would not be visible to the untrained eye. The outline of a burial pit, the inclusion of grave goods, human teeth and a small amount of other human bone is probably as much as remains. The burials are there all the same, and could be easily missed by those involved in construction activities. It is the practice of Bahamian and Caribbean people to bury loved ones in houses and houseyards, around churches, in beach areas, as well as in raised cairns in fields.

There is no reason to think that a single burial ground or cemetery exists at the site, but rather, multiple instances of group and individual burials, in multiple plots scattered across the landscape. Potentially, any area of the property could be the location of burial sites. It is inevitable that any number of burials would be desecrated during massive land-moving activities at the site. Such burials could only be located through extensive, time-consuming and expensive complete archaeological excavation of all areas where the subsurface of the land would be impacted, whether for the creation of the marina or the building of homes.