www.thebermudian.com FALL 2014 | 15
From the Crow’s Nest | THE SCENE
excavation sites: the Oven Site. The location matches a building marked
on John Speed’s 1625 map, reflecting Richard Norwood’s 1616 survey.
This summer the archaeological team matched the site scientifically. It
is very likely the oldest known dwelling in Bermuda, occupied between
1614 and 1616. The painstaking activity of cautiously scraping and
brushing away the ground cover, detritus, underlying dirt and rubble
to expose the original dirt floor of the old house has taken five years
and was no easy task, but it has taught us much about this early timber
house and who may have lived there. These early settlers, for example,
apparently dug down two or three feet into the ground before building
up walls, making less work for themselves and potentially protecting the
lower-profile house from wind and storms.
The original 400-year-old dirt floor can now be clearly seen along
with a primitive fireplace and oven carved out of the bedrock, complete
with an above-ground flue at the top of a quarry cut. Clearly visible in
the dirt floor are a series of holes where posts once stood to hold up the
wooden roof and gable ends.
With every scoop of dirt carefully sifted and inspected for artifacts,
the team can learn much about how the early settlers built, what they
traded and how and what they ate. Within the carved-out fireplace an
accumulation of fish and bird bones was uncovered. The most intriguing, and perhaps most telling, items found in the floor layers of the dig,
were flakes of chert (a type of stone) and the tip of a chert projectile
point which had been pressure-flaked on both faces to create a serrated
cutting edge. Chert is not a stone found in Bermuda and this discovery
led the archaeologists to identify the house as most likely that of Boaz
Sharpe, who at the time of his death in 1707 shared his home with nine
Native American slaves. Metal knives were available during this period,
so the chert arrowhead indicates that the stone was acquired in North
America and brought to Bermuda as a cultural artifact rather than a
necessity. A bone-handled knife, a pricey utensil that belonged to one
of the first residents, the commander of Smith’s Fort, was found in the
lower layer as well. Pieces of earthenware not made after 1620 were
also found, along with Metropolitan ware, a type of pottery made only
between 1630 and 1660, suggesting a long occupancy of this house
until around 1710 when it was apparently abandoned. The hundred-year-old timber house was then likely wiped out by the hurricanes of
1712 or 1714.
We follow our leader through the bush and along less-travelled paths
in the woodland to the Cave Site, a rocky outcrop overhanging rich soil.
To the archaeologists it suggested a refuge where early settlers could
shelter from wind, rain and storms. Sure enough a closer inspection of
the cave revealed that its overhanging roof had been scraped and carved
on the underside to provide more headroom. Someone had gone to a
lot of trouble to make this cave liveable. Furthermore, there were carefully carved out shelves on an interior wall of the cave. Once the excava-
Top: A tarpaulin protects the excavation site from rain and wind and
the field school from sun at the Oven Site. Middle: Oven Site showing the 400 year old dirt floor, oven carved out of the rock and post
holes in the ground. Bottom: Dr. Michael Jarvis and his field student
at the Cave Site carefully scanning the soil for artifacts.