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For many decades researchers have focused their attention mainly on Pre-Columbian sites. Recently historical archaeology and monuments and phenomena related to the period of European colonisation have been enjoying growing interest. As the result of long-term research a Jesuit Loyola plantation, founded in the 17th century and situated within present-day Cayenne has been recognised.

The climate of French Guiana – mainly high temperatures and high humidity – made it difficult to colonise the area, and many plantations were closed after the abolition of slavery and the disappearance of cheap labour force. Access to Cayenne, the main port of the region, was also limited. Its relatively small depth meant that only few ships could enter it, so instead they set their course to Martinique more often (which caused constant supply shortages and problems with exporting local goods). In the 19th century attempts were made to replace cheap labour force with prisoners sent from the Old Continent, who were soon decimated by harsh conditions, poor sanitation, and tropical diseases. Now thick equatorial forest grows in the sites of former plantations.

Zespół badawczy w laboratorium
Fot. Maksym Mackiewicz/UWr

The topic of this year’s research was La Caroline plantation, established at the end of the 18th century and operating at least until the 70s or 80s of the 19th century. The site is located around 30 kilometres south of Cayenne, near the town of Roura and the Mahury River. Ironically, little is known about the details of the functioning of this and similar establishments, their organisation and material culture. One can still spot today the remnants of the buildings. They were constructed on a symmetrical, usually fairly repetitive ground plan. The main house in the centre, belonging to the plantation owner, was surrounded by residential and utility buildings. They included, among others, a detached kitchen, administrator’s house with a workshop, heating chamber, stable, slave or labourer houses. Artificial terraces fortified with stone blocks and monumental stairs leading to a now closed channel, the convenient access to the Mahury, have also been preserved. In parallel, a land road led to the waterfront.

A Polish touch accompanying the research was the fact that the plantation was described in the memoirs of Konstanty Jelski, a naturalist who in the 60s of the 19th century wandered into La Caroline habitation, looking for rare bird and bat species. In 1898, after the author’s death, the description of his stay in South America was published in print and entitled Popularno-przyrodnicze opowiadania z pobytu w Gujanie francuskiej i po części w Peru (od r. 1865-1871) [Popular Nature Stories From the Stay in French Guiana and Partially in Peru (1865-1871)]. According to his relation the fields at the time of his visit were already somewhat neglected, and the plantation itself was living off of growing carnations. It is known from other sources that previously roucou (achiote), used mainly as dye, had been grown there, and cotton had been experimented with.

During this year’s archaeological investigations the kitchen building with the remnants of the oven, a fragment of the owner’s house with main stairs (described by Jelski), and the administrator’s house were partially recognised. The walls of the buildings were erected predominantly using frame construction. Spaces between beams were filled with local stones or bricks. In the area of the excavations numerous movable artefacts have been discovered, interestingly – largely of European origin, which included fragments of kaolin clay pipes imported from France, the Netherlands, and the British Isles (mainly Scotland), ceramic sherds, and numerous glass bottles found virtually everywhere on the site, produced predominantly in the 19th century.

Widok badanego fragmentu kuchni z zachowanym pomieszczeniem głównym i piecem
Fot. Maksym Mackiewicz/UWr

The originator of the project was the archaeological artefact conservator in French Guiana, Dr Nicolas Payraud ((Direction des affaires culturelles de Guyane). The scientists from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Wrocław under the supervision of Dr Paweł Duma have been invited to co-operate. The research team included, among others, archaeologist Maksym Mackiewicz and physical anthropologist Agnieszka Hałuszko, as well as archaeology students and graduates of the Sorbonne in Paris originating from French Guiana: Océane Jauregui, Lucie Jantot, and Antoine Suarez. At the same time two archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Clay and Megan Postemski, were investigating the slave or labourer quarter.

The expedition was funded by the French Republic. It was the first season of the research on La Caroline site. The project will be continued in the next year.

  1. Fragments of a porcelain figurine (doll) found near the stairs/photo by Maksym Mackiewicz
  2.  Research team in the laboratory/photo by Maksym Mackiewicz
  3. The view of the investigated fragment of the kitchen with the preserved main chamber and oven/photo by Maksym Mackiewicz