When Anima Ghimire’s history advisor recruited students for an archaeological dig in Bermuda, Ghimire instantly responded, “I’m on board!”
During the summer of 2013, Ghirmire, a double major in neuroscience and history, joined a four-student team and Professor Michael Jarvis for a five-week course excavating Smith’s Island, one of the earliest known settlements in Bermuda.
Jarvis has been working summers on the 60-acre island since 2010. The dig concentrated on what has come to be known as the “Oven Site,” named for the several stone ovens at the location.
The Oven Site is believed to be the remains of Boaz Sharpe’s house. Sharpe settled on the island in the late 1600s, and remained until his death in 1707. Sharpe’s household included nine Native American slaves, most likely from South Carolina—two older couples and their children.
The introduction of slavery to Bermuda—and especially the role of Native American slaves—is important to understanding the history of slavery in the Atlantic World.
“I didn’t really appreciate how important archaeology was until I did it,” Ghimire says.
Sifting through evidence
Excavation of the site has revealed a chimney, hearth, and several ovens. The team also uncovered hand-shaped chert flakes that had not been found in Bermuda before.
“Dr. Jarvis had an inventory that suggested these people lived there,” Ghimire explains. “But then we found evidence that this was, in fact, where Boaz Sharpe lived. We found chert stone flints that only Native Americans used.
Identifying the Oven Site’s original occupants was a major milestone for the hard-working team.
“Most of the time we dug—and it was a very meticulous process. It took us five weeks to dig five feet down,” Ghimire says. “And you can’t really use a shovel. You have to use a trowel because it’s very delicate work.
“Dr. Jarvis is really, really chill and awesome, but when it comes to archeology, he’s very organized and systematic,” she says.
“We found was a lot of fish bones. A lot, a lot, of fish bones! We also learned they kept cats,” Ghimire says.
“And there was a lot of pottery, and that was important. For example, there is a specific kind of pottery that was only made during a 30-year period. So it kind of tells us what the time period was when people settled in the house. There were a lot of clay pipes—the size of the bowl tells you when the pipe was made,” Ghimire says, explaining that the bowl sizes changed along with the fluctuations in tobacco prices throughout the 17th century, making it easy to date the artifacts.
“You can learn about people in class, but you can’t really experience what they were doing firsthand until you get to do archaeology,” she says.
Every little bone
“What was good about this year was that we got a lot of local Bermudians to volunteer. It was awesome. We had all age groups, and they were really enthusiastic. They came back everyday, so that was awesome!
“Bermudians are so chill. We talked a lot about their lifestyle, how they grew up, and their customs,” she says.
“They were really excited to find every little bone. I was too . . . at first. Then it’s like, ‘here’s another fish vertebra!’ But Dr. Jarvis never got jaded. He is so enthusiastic.”
“We were always afraid of finding human bones,” Ghimire confesses. “There was a circular area within Sharpe’s trash site that was big enough to fit a man—like a grave. And Jarvis was really reluctant to dig it, because if there was a body then we’d have to stop the dig, call in a forensic team, and everything would come to a halt. But, luckily, it was just a natural depression in the soil layer.
“It didn’t feel like five weeks, it went by so fast. It’s a six-credit course—though it didn’t seem like I was doing a lot of work because it was so much fun.”
Even though Ghirmire is on a pre-med track, she says studying history has helped to her hone skills that are important to her success in medicine.
“History is a passion. It teaches me how to think, and how to see the world,” she says.
“History in college isn’t anything like it is in high school. It’s not about remembering dates. It’s about finding evidence to support why something happened. I just love that aspect of it. And now I like archaeology, too.”