For a budget family adventure made for those with a love for cultural history, look into the volunteer excavation program at the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (S.E.C.A.R). The tiny Caribbean island of St. Eustatius ("Statia" to the locals) appeals to the adventurous traveler looking for a quiet, peaceful place, with miles of hiking and excellent diving sites for visitors to discover. It's also teeming with pristine historical treasures that ensure endless possibilities for visitors wanting to immerse themselves in the rich culture of the Dutch Caribbean.
The archeological dig sites change nearly every year, allowing volunteers to explore a new area of St. Eustatia history. Previous sites include the excavation of a slave village, a freed slave village, a sugar plantation and warehouses, a synagogue, and even military installations.
Beginners Welcome to Dig the Island's Historical Sites
Partnered with the St. Statius Historical Foundation, S.E.C.A.R is a not-for-profit research group established in 2000 to protect and preserve the island's archaeological resources in full cooperation with local residents. S.E.C.A.R's trained staff of both historic and prehistoric archaeologists make their research open to the public. Island visitors and lay and academic scholars can access information ranging from public lectures and school programs, to a special excavation experience open to beginners wanting to volunteer on a bustling field site.
Indeed, the St. Eustatius volunteer excavation opportunity is unique in that the program is geared towards those who have no archaeological experience. While seasoned dig veterans are more than welcome, S.E.C.A.R. is committed to teaching new volunteers the ins-and-outs of excavation and getting them digging.
There is a minimum age for the program, 18 years, however younger volunteers are welcome to participate as long as they are accompanied by an adult. As for older budding archaeologists, they should not fear that they will be turned away: regularly SECAR hosts 70-year-olds excavating with the team.
In addition, this program is a great internship opportunity for archaeology or museum studies students looking for a great vacation idea, while also gaining invaluable resume experience.
Details on Planning your Volunteer Archeologist Vacation
Volunteers have the opportunity to either stay at S.E.C.A.R. headquarters (space permitting) or to book a reservation at one of Statia’s many hotels to return to in the evenings. The site has more information on what volunteers should bring, but beginners should expect to work long hours in the sun and should bring a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes for digging in, hat, and plenty of sunsceen and insect repellant. When not on the field, there is plenty of opportunity to explore the national parks (known affectionately as Stenapa.)
The price of tuition and housing starts at $550 for one week, and there are long term stay options. Fill out their required volunteer application; you will need to arrange for air and car transportation on your own.
Food is not provided in housing or tuition costs, but there are plenty of restaurants and separate kitchen facilities that are open for S.E.C.A.R volunteers to use. And here’s a tip from this archaeologist-turned-travel-writer: use meal times as an opportunity to bond with your teammates and fellow volunteers by eating or preparing food communally!
During my own undergraduate career I found that digs were one of the joys of being an archaeologist. These volunteer opportunities provides invaluable fieldwork experience and a chance to be involved in the community through the hands-on preservation of cultural sites, as well as the opportunity to meet and work with other volunteers just as passionate about historical research.
For questions or more information about the program, contact S.E.C.A.R staff at [email protected] For more information on where to stay in St. Eustatius, visit the St. Eustatius Tourist Foundation and check out their hotel listings.
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