Step back from the turmoil of daily life and stay for awhile. On your tour of this place gaze beyond the horizon of the moment and comb the beach for the curious bits and pieces of past, present, and future lives that wash up on the Shores of Time.
So, what are the Shores of Time?
They are both a metonymy for the shores of the Caribbean Sea, which have borne witness to peoples and events of major historical impact that shape the world of today, as well as a metaphor for an archaeological way of looking at the world and its past. Many people think that what defines an archaeologist is that he or she excavates, to dig for artifacts that will be displayed in a museum. Although this is what we do some of the time — and many archaeologists think excavation is the best part of their job — what defines an archaeologist is the perspective that he or she has on human history.
It is a perspective that is shaped by a deep knowledge, not only of artifacts, but also of how human beings create, consume, move, distribute, exchange, develop, conceptualize, influence and are influenced by material culture. In addition, archaeologists have a firm grasp on all facets of human nature, culture, society, politics, religion, subsistence and economy. We don’t only use excavation but a whole range of tools and methods to bring the past to life, from sterile ancient DNA labs to ethnographic fieldwork in the jungles of the Guyanas, an archaeologist is at home in both places and everywhere in between.
We need all the help we can get from specialists from other disciplines and their advanced knowledge of for example geo-chemistry, computer science, museum, and history. We sorely need their help because our human past is a fascinating yet fragmented record that is very hard to put back together again. Archaeologists are fully aware that humans are dynamic and flexible beings, who engage in a bewildering array of social, cultural and material practices for an even more bewildering set of reasons. Then there are numerous ways that these material reflections of these rich practices and decisions end up in the ground, the archaeological record, and so many different things that can happen while they are there or are being recovered by archaeologists. In short, understanding how, let alone why something happened a certain way in the past is an extremely challenging undertaking.
Archaeologists study for a long time and in fact will never stop learning throughout their lifetime. Their brains house a lot of highly specialized knowledge and they communicate what goes on in that brain with other specialists via high-level conferences and publications. What is being said at or written in these meetings and papers, does not always make sense to the larger public. Unfortunately, because understanding and talking about the past is such a time-consuming and specialized undertaking, this means that many of us do not have or take the time to communicate their knowledge in a publicly accessible and understandable manner. In addition, because of the many different ways that the past may be represented in the archaeological record, we often find it hard to tell a coherent story about it, as we certainly do not know the Truth about what happened in the past. In short, in our attempt to understand history, we often forget to re-tell it. Which is a pity, as we have many beautiful stories to tell.
The Shores of Time is a way to communicate archaeological thinking about the Caribbean as well as other times and places to a larger audience. This is why most of the writing you find here is in the forms of essays and why Alice Samson and I have started the “A History of the Caribbean in 100 Objects” podcast. We try to combine a high level of discussion with insights and stories that can be understood by all. These bits and pieces of the past can also be used and re-purposed by all, since everything you find on these shores belong to the Creative Commons or public domain.
Thanks once again for taking the time to visit and please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, opinions, comments, stories or artefacts to share.