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Building partnerships for mapping of archaeological sites impacted by climate change

In July 2023, Leiden University conducted another phase of its ongoing archaeological collaboration with the Kalinago Territory in the Caribbean island of Dominica. Activities focused on mapping and assessing coastal sites impacted by climate stressors, undertaking knowledge-exchange sessions, and co-creating climate stories with members of the Kalinago community through oral history interviews.

Community perspectives

This 2023 field component was built on previous surveys by Leiden in 2008, 2015, and 2019. For the 2023 session, activities centred around the Atouri River South, Mahaut River, Crayfish River, Bataka, and the Salybia archaeological sites, which were identified as coastal sites being impacted by climate-induced hazards. Participants focused on collecting general landscape data, assessed sites, searched for new sites, interviewed community members on the various sites, participated in drone mapping, and analyzed pottery found at the five sites. A critical component focused on the participation of community members, particularly in hearing their perspectives on the ongoing loss of their archaeological sites to climate change.

Three students in archaeology from the Netherlands and one history student from Barbados joined five community members who participated in various stages of the three-week-long assessment, and ten community members who participated in the drone survey exercise at the Salybia site led by Kalinago community drone expert Asher Burton. The drone mapping exercise was carried out with the support of the Kalinago Council. The team was led by PhD researcher Andrea Richards who is also undertaking research in the Territory on Indigenous knowledge adaptation strategies concerning the changing climate.

Sharing stories

In addition to field activities, the team met with community members who shared their stories concerning growing up on the coast and experiencing the loss of their heritage in these areas to tropical storms, coastal erosion, and flooding. These stories will be co-curated with community members to form part of Climate Story Maps developed around the five sites and a future exhibition for the Territory.

‘I must say that every aspect: from the climbing up on slopes, going to various locations, whether it was on a hill, in a valley, by the bay, walking under the rain, all in search of pre-Columbian sites with Leiden University was exceptionally great. Every day was greeted with a new moon and sun, something sparkling and interesting that caught the eye. This privilege to search for our Amerindian history and culture is appreciated, and I can say that it was all educational fun to me.’ Reny Auguiste

Knowledge exchange

Students also participated in a Leiden University knowledge exchange evening, sharing information on Leiden’s collaboration with the Territory over the past 30 years. This activity allowed community members to speak on these past initiatives and those they wished to collaborate with the University in the future.

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