Please do not take any remains or artefacts from archaeological sites. The Grenada National Museum (GNM) informs the public that it is unethical to seek out archaeological remains of the past which, against all odds, have survived until today.
Removing such artefacts is also illegal under Part IV of the Museum Act of 2017 and subject to a $10,000 summary fine.
The recently “discovered” human remains at True Blue are part of a known, previously recorded archaeological site. The new exposure is likely due to above-normal high tides over the past week. (Note well: there is no evidence whatsoever that these are victims of the 19 October 1983 assassinations – indeed, there are no modern artefacts associated with them and at least 2 of the documented skeletons are children.)
After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, local residents reported the site in True Blue. Beginning in 2015, archaeologists visited and documented many surface finds, including artefacts and human remains. Unfortunately, we lacked resources to excavate the remains and/or preserve the shoreline. Because excavation would further exacerbate the erosion, we do believe that mitigation strategies and resources for preserving the shoreline are essential.
Initially, we thought that the site dated to the Amerindian period, with historic (Colonial Era) intrusions. Given the presence of Amerindian pottery, this is still our current interpretation. However, the artefacts associated with the burials themselves are from the historic era. These artefacts – historic bottle glass, earthenware ceramics, and nails (likely for coffins) – date the burials squarely to the late 18th/early 19th centuries (early 1800s).
Our records suggest that this site in True Blue is part of the La Grand Anse estate, a 1,360-acre sugar plantation formed in the late 17th century (French period). Around 1765, the newly arrived British authorities divided the estate into Grand Anse, Morne Rouge, and True Blue, all of which remained sugar plantations. At any given time between 1765 through 1836, the True Blue Estate contained between 96 and 124 enslaved individuals.
As is often the case, we can only surmise where the enslaved lived on the estate, since only one structure is shown on historic maps. Typically, enslaved housing would be in marginal, less fertile areas, and this would be true of where their deceased were interred. The plantation owners sometimes buried their dead in small family plots near the house, but more often, they were interred in large cemeteries in churchyards and near larger towns. Thus, given the paucity of artefacts amongst the graves and their location on marginal land (far from the central plantation), there is a high probability the present burials were enslaved individuals from the True Blue Estate.
It is highly likely some (perhaps many) of us are their descendants, so their remains should be treated with respect and sensitivity.
Protocol for Human Remains
The sensationalism surrounding the recent remains also highlights an important protocol issue that we, the Grenada National Museum (GNM), are eager to address. When human remains are found in Grenada, persons should call the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF), who can then determine whether the site is a crime scene.
Because coastal areas are typically more alkaline, bones are easily preserved, and so the age of the bones may not be immediately obvious. Thus, if you find human remains, you should contact the RGPF, even if there are archaeological artefacts present.
In summary, whenever human remains are found in Grenada:
- Call the RGPF
- If archaeological materials are present, the police will contact the GNM.
The Grenada National Museum (GNM) is in the process of formalising these protocols and is building capacity and resources for better documenting and protecting Grenada’s heritage sites. This is especially important for coastal areas, which are threatened more than ever by coastal development and the effects of climate change (both rising seas and stronger storm surges). As such, situations like that of True Blue this week are likely to keep happening.
No single organisation or entity can preserve and protect all of Grenada’s heritage sites. It is up to each of us to do our part and learn about our history, teach our children the importance of that history, and notify the proper authorities when remains are found or when we see wrongdoing. Together, we can preserve Grenada’s fascinating and beautiful heritage for future generations.
Many thanks to John Angus Martin and Michael Jessamy for their assistance with the above information.