By Donald H Keith
Yesterday marked the end of our two weeks of field work on Ft. George Cay. It was a little sad to backfill the test excavations, take down our base camp, and shuttle everything back to Pine Cay. We didn’t accomplish as much as I hoped, but there’s nothing new about that. I’ve always been suspicious that meeting all your goals may mean that they weren’t set high enough to start with.
There is still a lot of Ft. George Cay to explore. We did not set foot on every square meter of land or comb the shallows offshore as thoroughly as I intended. Clumps of really dense bush discouraged us from testing many promising areas. But we managed to accurately map the locations where we found evidence of habitation and put them on geo-registered high-resolution digital aerial photos of Ft. George Cay using a program called Oziexplorer. This is important because the part of the cay currently protected by legislation is only 1 acre. The maps now irrefutably demonstrate that structures and artifacts belonging to the fort cover at least 8 acres and probably much more.
Last night we gave a brief presentation at the Meridian Club. For us it was an honor and a privilege because many of the people who pioneered the exploration of Ft. George decades ago were in the audience. We owe them a lot; they have been the custodians of the fort for more than 30 years. They are the ones who brought Ft. George and its history to our attention, the ones who first voiced alarm at how rapidly it is eroding into the sea, and the ones who made this expedition possible. They initiated research in Great Britain and elsewhere to pick up the wispy historical threads that reveal who built the fort, when it was constructed, and why. One Pine Cay couple has already donated their collection of documents, maps, and artifacts to the Museum and another collection is pledged. A very accurate and highly detailed map of the principal ruins that they made in 1998, when compared with ours, furnishes incontrovertible evidence of the rate of erosion experienced by the part of the fort closest to shore. At least 40 feet of it has fallen into the sea in the last 11 years!
Although the field work portion of our archaeological exploration of Ft. George is finished, the project is far from over. We have artifacts and samples to clean, conserve, and analyze, articles and reports to write, and exhibits to prepare. We hope that our efforts will engender a greater awareness of the historical importance of Ft. St. George, how rapidly shore erosion is destroying parts of it, and how time for efforts to protect and preserve it is running out.