Harbour Island: The Comparative Archaeology of a Maritime Community



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Archaeological research at Harbour Island, Bahamas, was designed to help explore and develop the concept of maritimity, or identity grounded in perceived (or imagined) shared traits deriving from a community?s relationship with the maritime environment. Maritimity can best be identified by using three broad and overlapping categories of Landscape, Maritime Resources and Maritime Material Culture. Historical documents and maritime cultural landscape elements establish the maritimity of Harbour Island in the context of these categories. Artifacts, procured through archaeological survey of nine properties inhabited since at least the eighteenth century, are analyzed to investigate whether there any notable differences in the archaeological assemblages of maritime communities that indicate maritimity. Analysis relies on Stanley South's artifact classification system and his Carolina Artifact pattern. The nine properties are compared among themselves as well as with four other sites from the western British Atlantic region.

Comparisons between the Harbour Island sites reveal a strong homogeneity of ceramic types at all households and a low representation of personal and clothing artifacts that indicate the relative poverty of the community. Maritime activities are not strongly represented in the archaeological record. When compared to four other sites from Jamaica, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Delaware, the assemblage from the Harbour Island community is relatively comparable to other sites influenced by British colonial culture.

Although the domestic artifacts contain little maritime material culture, the development of the island's built environment demonstrates maritimity in both the categories of Landscape and Maritime Material Culture. Faunal remains from Harbour Island, consisting primarily of fish and shellfish, provide archaeological evidence of the importance of the Maritime Resources category. Only when the evidence from all three categories of maritimity is considered together can Harbour Island be identified archaeologically as a community that strongly identified with both the maritime environment and the dominant British Colonial Atlantic culture.