The Tobago House of Assembly has granted approval for the University of Connecticut in the USA to conduct archaeological surveys and excavation works near the Scarborough Harbour to locate the remains of 16 shipwrecks. The vessels were sunk during the fierce wars the Dutch and the French fought in the 17th century for control of the island.
A 30-member team is expected to undertake the scientific investigation of the heritage project. It is headed by Dr Kroum Batchvarov, professor of maritime archaeology at the University of Connecticut, assisted by Jason Paterniti, director of operations at the G-eos Foundation.
Speaking at the post-executive council news conference on Wednesday, Batchvarov said the initiative was the most important project of its kind in the Caribbean in 12 years. He said the project will be an opportunity for local scholars to participate in the exciting work of deep-sea mapping and exploration.
"This project will provide unique opportunities for local students and students abroad to interact with each other to find an interesting aspect of this," he said. "Archaeology is not only about excavation of an object. Many disciplines of science are involved in this, starting from the study of technology back then to technology in the present day.
"We always use up-to-date, high-quality equipment like computers. All this is part of our operation, so there are opportunities for science development, there is chemistry involved, there is physics involved and computer science involved...and we are hoping to share the knowledge with the local students who would like to work with us."
Batchvarov said his team has been working with Edward Hernandez, director of the museum at Fort King George, to determine ways to preserve the items that would be recovered, to boost cultural tourism "Part of our objective is the establishment of a good-class maritime archaeology section within the museum," he said.
"Tobago has been blessed with a fantastic museum and venue for displaying Tobago's cultural heritage at the Fort King George Museum. "Our hope is that this would enhance Tobago's reputation as a leading destination for cultural tourism within the region."
He noted that the event would be widely documented on the Internet with its own Web site. Social networks Facebook and Twitter will also be utilised and the world-respected National Geographic magazine will also document the findings. Batchvarov said a book would also be written about the exploration, with joint copyright between him and the THA.
He said all the artefacts found would be the property of the THA. The project is being sponsored totally by the University of Connecticut and is expected to cost approximately US$82,000 a year. Excavation, recording, documentation and conservation are expected to start in June 2013, and to be completed in between three and five years.
In 1677, a French squadron, assisted by a large detachment of troops, attempted to wrest control of Tobago from the Dutch West Indies Company. The squadrons fought a crucial battle in what today is the Scarborough Harbour. The battle was one of the largest fought outside Europe in the 1600s, and the eventual loss of Tobago to the French marked a significant turning point in the history of Caribbean settlement.