photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “I had to climb, crawl and push my way through the debris to get to my office”, says Archaeologist Dr. Jay Haviser. He founded the Sint Maarten Archaeological Center (SIMARC) in 2002, but hurricane Irma destroyed everything.

By Laura Bijnsdorp

With the help of a few Dutch Engineers, a pathway was cleared to make the access easier and safer. Together with the foundations student-volunteers, Haviser is now ready to save what is left of any artifacts and assets of SIMARC.

Fifteen years of work, gone in a few hours
“I have put fifteen years of my life into building this place”, Haviser states. SIMARC, which is a non-profit foundation, became the official depository for archaeological artifacts collected during fieldwork that has been carried out in St. Maarten. The facility also contained a lab, held heritage educational lectures for students every Monday, and organized activities for the broader community.

“We get to learn real scientific procedures and gain experience such as doing excavations first hand, thanks to Dr. Haviser”, explains SIMARC student Srishti Ranjani, who is interested in forensic science.

Shivani Mirchandani, who has been a student at SIMARC for four years adds: “I learn a lot, but it also has brought me together with other students who are interested in the same things. We have a lot of fun!”

Not all is lost
Eight weeks later, the SIMARC team is ready to save any of the artifacts that are left, and move them to a temporary workstation housed in a donated container. Haviser: “When I first saw the state of SIMARC, I thought we had lost everything.”

But upon further inspection, Haviser estimates now that at least 75 percent of the artifacts in the Archaeological Center will likely be saved. Before the hurricane all artifacts were placed in plastic bags, carefully numbered and placed in plastic containers. “The worst damage will likely be done to anything that is paper or cloth”, explains Haviser.

More focus on heritage in the future
“Although things were improving in the last few years, our island does not prioritize the preservation of our history enough”, says Christopher Velasquez, who works for the department of culture and has been working on compiling a proper catalog of monuments, artifacts and historical sites on Sint Maarten.

Besides SIMARC, many monuments, especially those located in Philipsburg, were badly damaged during the storm. Trees, some over two hundred years old will also never recover. The St. Maarten museum lost their roof, and as a result sustained a lot of water-damage.

Although there are initial talks about putting the library, museum and SIMARC under one roof, it remains to be seen if this is financially viable. “I hope that this traumatic experience on the island will make us very aware of the value of the very few artifacts and archaeological sites we have left”, Haviser concludes.