Underwater archaeology summer field school, St. Eustatius

Location: Oranjestad, St. Eustatius, AN

Season: July 11, 2019 to August 4, 2019

Session Dates: July 11 - 24, 2019 / July 27 - August 4, 2019

Application Deadline: June 11, 2019

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field school

RPA Certified:

The Shipwreck Survey St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research

Project Director:
Ruud Stelten, Director, The Shipwreck Survey

Project Description:

The Shipwreck Survey, in cooperation with the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR), is organizing two underwater archaeological summer programs on St. Eustatius in the Dutch Caribbean. These programs are complimentary but can also be booked separately. The dates are as follows:

July 11 – 24, 2019: field school on a fascinating 18th-century shipwreck site (see below)

July 27 – August 4, 2019: expedition to explore and document remote archaeological sites (see below)

St. Eustatius, a tiny island in the northeastern Caribbean, was the busiest port in the Americas in the late eighteenth century and played an instrumental role in supplying arms and ammunition to the rebels during the Revolutionary War. The island is believed to have the densest concentration of archaeological sites of any area of comparable size in the New World, and is dotted with the remains of sugar plantations, cemeteries, old warehouses, fortifications, and marine structures. The waters surrounding the island are home to an estimated 200 shipwreck sites.

The field school will comprise a two-week program packed with adventure and exploration. The focus will be on documenting submerged archaeological remains and learning surveying and documenting techniques such as photogrammetry (3D recording) and underwater photography, drawing underwater sites, geophysical surveying techinques, recording cannons and anchors, etc. Last year we discovered a shipwreck dating to the 1740s which we will continue to study during this course. Artifacts retrieved from the site will be subjected to conservation treatment and analysis so that participants gain hands-on experience with all aspects of the archaeological process.
In addition to the practical applications, there will be presentations on the history of St. Eustatius and shipwrecks, artifact workshops, excursions and hikes on our beautiful dormant volcano and archaeological sites on the island.

The expedition will be largely focused on exploring and documenting remote archaeological sites and areas of interest around the island. The leeward side of St. Eustatius, where most shipping activity took place in the colonial period, is a vast area that encompasses a shallow submarine bank which extends for several kilometers offshore. This remote area contains many uncharted regions. Bathymetric data indicates there are several large reefs that have yet to be explored. Moreover, ancient lava flows that are now covered in corals and sponges are places where there is a high chance of finding shipwrecks and historic artifacts such as anchors. The aim is to venture far out into the corners of the submarine bank to map, record, and explore undocumented reefs, historic anchorage areas, and possible shipwreck sites. As this is an exploratory expedition, there will be a heavier focus on underwater photography and photogrammetry (3D modeling) than the field school held prior to this program. Participants will learn advanced underwater photography and videography techniques, detailed recording of large artifacts, and will be involved in making a short documentary-style video and preparing a journal article of the results. 

Participants to the field school are required to be certified scuba divers (PADI Open Water Diver or equivalent certification from another agency). Scuba diving courses can also be taken on the island prior to the start of the field school (not included in the price).

Participants to the expedition are required to be at least Advanced Open Water divers and certified to dive with enriched air (nitrox). The Enriched Air Diver course is a short half-day course that can also be taken during the field school / expedition. 

Scubaqua Dive Center is our local partner when it comes to all diving activities. See their website for more information.

The island of St. Eustatius is relatively quiet and undeveloped. There are no large resorts, casinos, night clubs, or crowds of tourists. Instead, the island is a hidden gem with friendly people, little to no crime, beautiful national parks, and a laid-back atmosphere. Getting to St. Eustatius is easy. There are several direct flights into St. Maarten (airport code SXM) from US and European cities. From St. Maarten, take a short 18-minute flight to St. Eustatius (airport code EUX) with Winair.

Period(s) of Occupation: Colonial period, 17th and 18th centuries

Caribbean, underwater, archaeology, maritime, marine, shipwrecks

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 9 days

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: None

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodation will be at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, a spacious building in a quiet part of town. It features two bedrooms (bunk beds) and adjacent bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, office and laboratory facilities, living area, Wifi, weekly maid, washing machine, and a large porch. Food will be provided for the duration of the project. Cost: Total cost for the field school program is $2,900. This includes 13 nights accommodation, 3 meals a day, all activities including diving and full equipment rental, marine park fee, airport pickup and drop off, and all transportation on island. Total cost for the expedition program is $2,200. This includes 9 nights accommodation, 3 meals a day, all activities including diving and full equipment rental, marine park fee, airport pickup and drop off, and all transportation on island.

Contact Information:

Ruud Stelten

Big Stone Road


St. Eustatius

Phone: 31642311256

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