Mr. Riley Bechtel
Chairman and CEO
50 Beale Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-1895
February 22, 2000
Dear Mr. Bechtel,
I have been part of an archaeological team studying the
archaeological resources of the area of New Providence known as Clifton since
1996. The research of Dr. Paul
Farnsworth (of Louisiana State University) and myself was developed independent
of any kind of cultural resource management considerations (I have enclosed
copies of several recent publications to illustrate the nature of our research).
It is my understanding that you are currently planning on
financially backing the development and construction of an exclusive gated
housing community on this property. Although
we have prepared a report on the archaeological resources and the impacts of the
proposed project, this report has been until recently entirely kept from the
Bahamian public by the Prime Minister’s
office, and access to it continues to be tightly
controlled. We had entered into the
contract agreement with the government of the Bahamas in good faith, with the
expectation that the report and its findings would be used as part of an
environmental impact assessment process, and open for public debate.
It has become apparent that the government is not holding to their end of
the arrangement, and rather, are attempting to suppress information.
Given that the Bahamian Public (and apparently Chauffin Light and
Associates, as well) have not been given access to this information, I felt it
might be beneficial to inform you as to the nature, extent and importance of the
archaeological remains associated with this property.
The Clifton Property is a unique, intact , integrated,
historical archaeological landscape that represents a microcosm of New World
history. The archaeological
resources on the land depict the first inhabitants of the bahamas, the Lucayan
Indians----the first Native peoples of the New World to be victims of genocide
at the hands of Spanish Colonizers. Represented
at Clifton is the West African slave trade----a story that combines both the
senseless human tragedy of enslavement and the African peoples of the United
States. The archaeological
resources of Clifton also incorporate the experiences of Bahamians after the
abolition of enslavement. Archaeological
resources tell of Bahamian daily life through the 1960s.
No where else in the Bahamas or the rest of the Caribbean am I aware of
so much New World history compacted into
Just a 2000 acre parcel. The archaeological time depth of
the Clifton Property begins at 1000DA-1500AD, begins again in the 1730s,
extended through continuously until the 1960s.
It is truly an archaeological treasure.
Specifically known archaeological resources include:
2 prehistoric Lucayan village sites dating from AD 1000 to Ad
1500. These are the last two village sites remaining on New
Providence. Other village sites
recorded on the island
have There are most certainly other, undocumented archaeological remains located
on the site. Even so, based upon
what is currently known about archaeological resources on the property, if
located in the United states, just one of these components would be enough for
National Register of Historic Places eligibility.
Frankly, in the United States, this property would be eligible for
inclusion as a historic district, and/or landscape, such is the integrity of the
resources. Based upon the
archaeological resources alone, this project’s impacts would be deemed too
great to justify development. I
make this assessment not as an academic worried about losing access to a
research site, but based upon three years of work in the cultural resource
management industry, including employment as an environmental impact specialist
for the Department of Transportation in Louisiana.
While the archaeological resources of Clifton
Plantation represent a unique opportunity to study and preserve not just
Bahamian, but New World history as a whole, the experiences of the people who
lives and died on Clifton also make this property a spiritual place.
As part of the archaeological remains on the property are the buried
loved ones of Lucayan Indians and enslaved Africans and their ancestors.
Preservation of bone is such in the northern Bahamas that these burials
would not be visible to the untrained eye.
The outline of a burial pit, the inclusion of grave goods, human teeth
and a small amount of other human bone is probably as much as remains.
The burials are there all the same, and could be easily missed by those
involved in construction activities. It
is the practice of Bahamian and Caribbean people to bury loved ones in houses
and houseyards, around churches, in beach areas, as well as in raised cairns in
fields. There is no reason to think that
a single burial ground or cemetery exists at the site, but rather, multiple
instances of group and individual burials, in multiple plots scattered across
the landscape. Potentially, any
area of the property could be the location of burial sites.
It is inevitable that any number of located through extensive,
time-consuming and expensive complete archaeological excavation of all areas
where the subsurface of the land would be impaced, whether for the creation of
the marina or the building of homes.
There are many places in the Bahamas that would welcome the
kind of development proposed for Clifton. The
kind of development proposed for this particular location, however, is morally
misguided. I have worked in the
Bahamas archipelago since 1989, and specifically at Clifton since 1996.
I do not know how much of the media attention regarding this project in
the Bahamas to which you are privy, but I would like to emphasize that both
sides of the current debate underestimate the importance of this place to many
Bahamians, particularly those of African descent.
The opposition to the project includes not only the vocal members and
supporters of the Coalition, but individuals from every socioeconomic walk of
life in the Bahamas. During a
recent visit I spoke to waitresses, gardeners, fishermen, school teachers, stay
at home mothers, taxi drivers and shop keepers all over New Providence about the
project. I was even stopped in
small local restaurants by individuals who overheard me talking about the
project. Many Bahamians thought
that the project must have already been cancelled, because the impacts are so
great--surely the government would not allow such a horrible project to still
occur given the distress of the public! Others
expressed fear over the possibility of openly criticizing the government,
remembering well how dissidents were retaliated against by members of the last
During every summer of field work we have spent at
Clifton, we have been privileged to interact with large numbers of families and
individuals who come to learn about their cultural heritage at the site.
A number of Bahamians have volunteered as part of our excavations.
We have met numerous people whose family’s have depended upon the
terrestrial and marine resources of Clifton for basic subsistence.
We have met numerous families who come to Clifton to enjoy the beautiful
beaches, the reefs and peace of the only sheltered beach left for them to enjoy
on their island. Clifton is
well-known as the last accessible beach where one can actually collect shells
from the shore. We have encountered
groups on nature tours, exploring the beautiful plant and animal resources of
the land. Workers from Texaco and
Kalick brewery come to picnic at the waterside during their lunch breaks.
We have met people who come to the site to collect medicinal plants, just
as their parents, grandparents and great grandparents did before them.
We have met individuals who come to this place to pay homage to their
ancestors who lived, died and were buried on this land.
Clifton is a resource utilized by many Bahamian, and since 1989, it has
been a resource they thought their government was holding in trust for them.
Paul Fransworth and I have spent more time on Clifton probably than any
non-Bahamian over the past four years, and based upon the time spent there, I
cannot over emphasize what a tragedy it would be for this land to be developed
and made inaccessible to Bahamians.
Imagine, if you will, Monticello, Mt Vernon, or the
battlefield at Gettysburg, bought by a foreign investor, gated off, channeled
through the middle (thus disturbing the national cemetery on the site), and
covered the land with housing not affordable for any United States citizen.
Then imagine that if we wanted to visit these mouments, we could only do
so under guarded escort at the convenience of the foreign entity.
The proposed project at Clifton intends to do exactly that.
Betchel is an internationally known and respected company,
and to continue to push for this development project would leave a serious
blemish on your company’s reputation. There
is on profit margin that can justify the disenfranchisement of African slave
descendants from their cultural and historical patrimony.
There are many beautiful locations in the Bahamas, on island that crave
the economic benefits your project could bring, and that would not have the same
cultural heritage impacts as the Clifton project would.
I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this project
and its implications in future detail at your convenience.
Laurie A. Wilkin, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
42 Mobley Oaks Lane
Spring island, SC 29910