The history of prehistoric archaeological research in Suriname
Aad H. Versteeg
© 1998 Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience TNO / Royal Netherlands Academy
of Arts and Sciences, P.O.Box 19121, 1000 GC Amsterdam, The Netherlands
This paper is a chapter of a book titled: The history of earth sciences in Suriname
This book can be ordered at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, P.O.Box
19121, 1000 GC Amsterdam, The Netherlands
This chapter could be published on Internet thanks to the permission granted by the copyright holders.
This text can be used, if properly cited. The correct citation is:
Versteeg, A.H., 1998: The history of archaeological research in Suriname. In: Th.E. Wong, D.R. de Vletter, L. Krook, J.I.S. Zonneveld & A.J. van Loon (eds): The history of earth sciences in Suriname - Kon. Ned. Academie Wetenschappen & Nederlands Instituut voor Toegepaste Geowetenschappen TNO, 203-234.
Keywords: archaeology, prehistory, historiography, Suriname.
N.B. A comprehensive bibliography on the archaeology of Suriname is part of this publication
The beginning of the history of archaeological investigations in Suriname dates from approx. 125 years ago. The research focused on the Indian populations that lived in the country before the discovery of America by Columbus. Hering was the first investigator and excavator of archaeological sites; he worked during the last decades of the 19th century. Most of the current knowledge and insights are based on fieldwork carried out between 1957 and 1981. Archaeology deals with prehistoric human populations in their natural environment. The prehistoric Indians in Suriname already changed the natural environment consi-dera-bly by making clay mounds and raised fields for habitation and their advanced agriculture, respectively, and by burning the savannahs. It comes as no surprise that archaeological investigations in Suriname always have been closely inter-woven with ethnographical and anthropological studies on the one hand, and with landscape and geological studies on the other.
Earth sciences and archaeology
Suriname's prehistoric archaeology studies the human populations (Amerindians or Indians) that lived in Suriname before 1492. Many of these Indian groups lived in specific landscapes like the young coastal plain, or the savannahs of the interior. They seem to have chosen such landscapes because of specific characteristics. A detailed study of such landscapes is therefore important, and archaeologists cooperate for the purpose with Quaternary geologists and pedologists, to mutual benefit: the archaeologist thus obtains landscape and soil data which help him to understand the activities of the populations under study, whereas the geologist obtains data from archaeological sites that increase his understanding of landscape developments.
The archaeologist studies a 'dead', fossil record: the archaeological record or soil archive, i.e., everything the Indians left in or on the soil, and that kept up to present. He tries to understand the data and artefacts within the framework of a living culture of the past. This implies that he has two levels of operation: the dead, fossilized, remains and the prehistoric living culture.
Archaeology is a 'difficult' field of study. Relatively few remains of the ancient Indian culture have survived in Suriname: usually only pottery, stone, charcoal, shell, bone, soil discolorations, and major soil displacements such as mounds (also called 'terpen': artificially raised hills in the flat coastal plain on which prehistoric Indians built their villages) or raised-fields (artificially raised agricultural plots surrounded by ditches; found in the coastal swamps only).
In Suriname in particular, where some Indian groups still live more or less uninfluenced by Western culture, the richness of these aboriginal cultures can easily be compared with the scanty remains recovered from archaeological sites. It is thus found that featherwork, basketry, social organization, the ceremonial customs, myths of origin, language, and many other aspects of the prehistoric groups have largely been lost. These aspects may be reconstructed occasionally, however, i.e. if and when they are in some way reflected in the excavated 'hardware', for instance, if basketry imprints in the soft clay of pottery have preserved plaiting patterns, or if specific pottery or stone artefacts are found in a 'suggestive' context such as a grave. In a grave context, one can look for some clues for the social organization of the group under study. Burial customs with a differentiated treatment of the dead may imply that the social organization was non-egalitarian.
Petroglyphs probably are a reflection of another important realm: the ceremonial/mythical/ religious world of the populations of the past. Unfortunately, the majority of the hundreds of petroglyphs in Suriname cannot be connected to specific prehistoric Indian groups. The distribution of petroglyphs, however, is remarkable: all except one (on the Sipaliwini Savannah) occur near water: most are situated in the Corantijn Basin, and all others found up to now are in the Marowijne Basin. It is striking in this respect that these two rivers are the only ones that have their origin near to the watershed in the south of the Guianas. For French Guiana, a similar situation exists in the interior: only the basins of the Oyapock (and, of course, of the Marowijne) house petroglyphs. The coastal situation there is different, however, because it is rocky. This coast also houses petroglyphs, which is unique in the Guianas. The hypothesis (Versteeg, 1995) that petroglyphs occur only near water or are associated with water thus seems to be confirmed. It is not evident, however, what conclusion should be drawn from these observations.
Archaeology in the Caribbean reminds one of an old, worn-down, 1000-pieces jigsaw puzzle of which only a few pieces remain. There are pieces enough to distinguish the layout of the total picture, some areas have a number of fitting pieces, but, unfortunately, several larger areas of the puzzle are represented by only one remaining piece, at most.
In spite of all these problems, it is evident that interesting populations lived in Suriname long ago. Some of these populations differed from any in the Guianas from the colonial period. This refers to, among others, the Indians of the Barrancoid Tradition (of whom archaeological material was found in the mounds Buckleburg-1 and Buckleburg-2) and those of the Arauquinoid Tradition (of whom material was found in the Hertenrits, Wageningen-1 and many smaller mounds) in the Coronie and Nickerie Districts who built mounds and raised fields (Versteeg & Bubberman, 1992).
Another example is presented by the stone-mining and tool-manufacturing societies near the Brownsberg (Boomert & Kroonenberg, 1977). The semi-finished tools were traded to Indian groups in the stoneless coastal area. The Kwatta Tingiholo site seems to have had a specific distribution role regarding these stone objects.
The most ancient Indian population known is intriguing, too: these hunters/gatherers that had stone-tool workshops in the Sipaliwini Savannah, were the first people that exploited the resources of the Guianas and that changed the landscape significantly by fire: the continued existence of large savannahs in the interior of the country is ascribed to these groups and their more recent successors (Versteeg & Bubberman, 1992).
These are interesting fields of study because of the uniqueness of the prehistorical record: the above examples in particular are worth mentioning because they show that earth sciences have contributed much to the understanding of the archaeological record in these landscapes. But there is more: the soil archive also contains stone tools and pottery: thin-section studies can reveal where the stone or pottery components originated from. Kroonenberg (this volume) concludes that "Indians were good geologists", and, indeed, geologists can help archaeologists to understand the ancient geological experts better.
Relationship with other disciplines
Archaeology may, as detailed above, depend partly on earth sciences, but Caribbean archaeology has an even larger dependency on ethnography, ethnology and social anthropology. Prehistoric archaeology and these anthropological sciences in the Caribbean have in common the study of Indians and Indian culture. The anthropologist who studies the past of a specific group, enters the field of interest of an archaeologist; vice versa, the archaeologist who studies the more recent history of a prehistoric group, enters the field of the anthropologist. These sciences are thus closely interwoven, not in their methods, but in their subjects. In the present contribution, much attention is therefore paid to the most important studies of modern Indian groups.
Objective of the present contribution
The present contribution is intended to overview the history of archaeological research in Suriname. This is the first attempt to do so since Geijskes' (1960/1961a) work. There are, admittedly, numerous smaller overviews written as an introduction to specific subject-oriented papers or books, but no comparable general overviews. Another objective is to provide some background information on the key-persons who carried out the research and on the framework in which the research was done.
The period before 1900
Two collections of more or less similar Indian artefacts from Suriname already existed in the 18th century: one in Geneva and one (of Stedman) in The Hague. The Geneva collection contains a flute made from the femur of an Indian woman (Figure 1), a hat of palm bark, an apron of an Indian woman, a necklace of tiger teeth, and an Indian fan. They probably were the first objects of Surinam Indians which were studied and became part of a public exposition. A. Butini, a student of theology living in Suriname, donated these artefacts to the 'Chambre des Curiosités de la Bibliothèque de Genève' (the predecessor of the present 'Musée d'Ethnographie' in Geneva) in 1759 (Schoepf, 1985).
Another, larger collection of artefacts from 18th century Surinam Indians was described and illustrated by Stedman (1974 [original edition 1791]). It is striking that Stedman's figure 23 shows a similar flute (made from the bone of an enemy, according to Stedman!) as that present in the Geneva collection. These artefacts most probably were part of a collection that already existed in the 18th century. They were exhibited in the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities in The Hague, that had an ethnographic collection between 1816 and 1883. They ended up, in 1883, in the National Museum of Ethnology at Leiden, where the majority are still kept (Price & Price, 1979). Although some of the objects of these collections may have a prehistoric origin, it is much more probable that most of them - if not all - date from the 18th century. The similarity of the artefacts suggests, in addition, a more or less similar origin.
Prehistoric Indian remains were mentioned for the first time nearly a century later, by both R.H. Schomburgk (a traveller) and C.A. van Sypesteyn, at the time aide de camp of Suriname's Governor. The former found and reported petroglyphs in the Corantijn Basin (Schomburgk, 1841). Van Sypesteyn denied the truth of Schomburgk's report but mentioned himself other Indian remains, i.e. grooves in rocks: "Remains of an earlier population have not been found on rocks in Suriname in the shape of drawings or symbols, such as the cited author (i.e. R.H. Schomburgk) contends. Cup-shaped grooves, however, are found on the rocks in large numbers; probably these are the places where the ancient inhabitants whetted their battle-axes. Such axes still occur in Suriname" (Van Sypesteyn, 1854; translation AHV).
The Schomburgk (1845) record of Petroglyphs on Suriname's territory was followed, however, by publications on petroglyphs by other travellers (Brett, 1868; Brown, 1873). So Van Sypesteyn was wrong in his first contention, and correct in his second. The latter observation is a striking one indeed, if we consider that a renowned geologist like Professor Martin still interpreted grinding grooves as natural phenomena in the 1880s!
In the 19th century, many persons contributed to the body of archaeological information, one of them standing out: C.J. Hering (Figure 2). This fascinating person was born in Paramaribo in 1829. He was the son of a famous German homeopathic medical doctor. Hering senior lived in Suriname for six years; he left Suriname in 1833 for North America. Hering jr. followed him one year later but, in spite of his father's wishes to the contrary, he returned to Suriname to the family of his (deceased) mother.
Junior started his career in Suriname as a collector of zoological and botanical specimens for a French museum. He became, subsequently, secretary for the Government, specialist in (and wrote some books on) sugarcane processing and rum distillation while living at the Catharina Sophia plantation in the Saramacca District, owner of some plantations up to 1872, officer of the tax department (1872-1898), and specialist in processing coconut oil and fibres. In his last years (1900-1907), he lived in Paramaribo and wrote papers on agricultural subjects (Oudschans Dentz, 1931). He was a typical self-made man who had learned in practice most of his different trades and who had taught himself various disciplines such as tropical agriculture, botany, zoology, meteorology and archaeology; he also had become a corresponding member of several American and Dutch institutions (Versteeg, 1983b).
In 1860, he sent two stone axes, found near the Catherina Sophia plantation, to the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden. The only antiquities from Suriname in this museum up to then were two stone artefacts that had been bought by the Museum. The donation by Hering (whose correspondence with the museum is in the museum's archives) was consequently met with enthusiasm. His next donation dates from 14 years later; they were a result of his activities as a tax official, which brought him to various places in the coastal area. The new donation consisted of three axes, which - as he mentioned in a letter - had been difficult to obtain: "these wedges are becoming rarer every day. No other type of antiquities of the ancient inhabitants of Dutch Guiana was discovered up to now. There is no doubt that more wedges exist in this Colony, but they are highly appreciated by their owners. They have the opinion that they are miracle stones with healing properties" (letter by Hering to Leemans; translation AHV).
In the 1874-1880 period, Hering sent a number of stone axes and some pottery artefacts to Leiden each year. This seems of no great importance, but as a result Suriname's archaeology was for the first time put on the map. It also brought some official recognition for Hering: the Director of the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, Dr. C. Leemans, published on the Surinam artefacts in an international magazine (Leemans, 1877, 1879), and Hering received a silver medal from the Dutch government "for his merits on behalf of the State's collections of sciences and arts. So Hering and Leemans cooperated with each other as a European scientist and his overseas counterpart, both being interested in ever deepening insights into Suriname's 'antiquities' and in increasing the number of artefacts in the Leiden museum.
This resulted in a new plan: the study of the petroglyphs reported from Bigiston along the Marowijne River. Crevaux and Kappler had seen these petroglyphs, but they had not yet published their findings when Hering and Leemans made plans in 1981/1982 to study and document them. Obviously, rumors about the Bigiston petroglyphs had reached Paramaribo. Leemans obtained six hundred Dutch guilders for this research from the Ministry of Home Affairs and sent this money through the Governor (Van Sypesteyn, who had expressed the opinion some 25 years earlier that petroglyphs did not exist in Suriname!) to Hering.
Then happened what seems to be the eternal threat to the cooperation between amateurs and scientists: over-enthusiasm of the former and thoroughness required by the latter. Hering left for the Marowijne River without waiting for written instructions from Leemans, and found the petroglyphs at Bigiston. Leemans wanted casts to be made of the petroglyphs. Hering was, however, unable to do so because of the shallowness of the incisions. Instead, he had a drawing made of the petroglyph rock. Hering also heard of other petroglyphs upriver (probably referring to the Popkiston petroglyphs on the Tapanahony River, discovered and reported much later by Geijskes), but he had to return to Paramaribo because his rowers refused to continue.
Leemans, not well acquainted with the practical problems of travelling in Suriname, could not understand that Hering did not continue. Hering subsequently extended his travels to the Coppename River because he had heard of petroglyphs over there, but he was unable to find them on the banks of the lower course of the river. Hering's rowers then refused to continue further upriver than Kaaimanston; once more it turned out difficult for Leemans to recognize this as a real problem.
Hering sent a report about his trips, as well as the drawing of the Bigiston petroglyphs, to Leiden (Versteeg, 1983a,b). The drawings are now in the National Museum of Ethnology and the report is in the National Museum of Antiquities in the same city. The Hering report resulted in an official letter by Leemans in 1882 (on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs) in which the limited scientific results of Hering's mission were regretted, but "this state of affairs had not been caused by neglect of tasks. Hering was very much offended by this letter, and for some time nothing was heard of his archaeological activities.
H.F.C. ten Kate, the first Dutch Americanist and one of the most famous ethnologists of his time (he had received his Ph.D. in Göttingen three years earlier, for his study 'Zur Craniologie der Mongoloïden: Beobachtungen und Messungen', a physical-anthropological study on American Indians), arrived in Suriname on 13 June 1885. He stayed eight months in Suriname making extensive travels in the lower reaches of most rivers. He visited Indian groups on the Lower Corantijn, Nickerie, Wajombo, Coppename, and Lower Marowijne Rivers, and he collected archaeological material in the Coronie district. Hering and Ten Kate do not seem to have cooperated very well. They had different opinions as to whether some Coronie sites were to be considered kitchen middens or not. Ten Kate published several short reports on his Surinam research (Ten Kate, 1886a,b, 1887a,b, 1888; Ten Kate, 1914/1917 in Benjamins & Snelleman, 1914/1917), but the results were quite limited in view of the excellent research done by him elsewhere, and, particularly, in view of the relatively long period of time he spent in Suriname.
This may be attributed primarily to the loss of all his diaries and notes from the February-December 1885 period. The lack of an enthusiastic local counterpart may have been another cause. In this framework, the 'letter of regret' Hering had received a few years earlier comes to mind. Benjamins (1931), the well-known school inspector, states: "of Ten Kate's six scientific trips between 1882 and 1897 the one in Suriname was poorest in results. The main results of Ten Kate's Surinam research seem to be the observations and measurements performed to understand physical anthropological aspects of Suriname's Indians (Ten Kate, 1887a). Furthermore, Ten Kate (1887b) described and classified prehistoric stone axes.
After Ten Kate's departure from the country, only few data were published up to the end of the century that is worth mentioning. Spitzly (1890) described three stone axes, and Hering (1899) wrote a paper titled 'De oudheden van Suriname' (= The antiquities of Suriname) for the catalogue of the 1899 Colonial Exhibition at Haarlem; this manuscript was considerably shortened by the editor of the catalogue (Versteeg, 1982) and is currently present in the library of the Royal Institute for the Tropics in Amsterdam. Hering reported in the catalogue about two excavations that he had made at Belladrum and Ingie Kondre in the Coronie district in 1898. Another excavation or at least an archaeological site, also in Coronie, is not listed in this catalogue but is mentioned in the last letter Hering sent to Leemans, in 1887. Its description is intriguing, as Hering describes the Burnside site, the easternmost mound in the coastal plain. He did, however, not recognize the artificial character of the mound and his description of "a large hill" did not draw any attention to the unique site. That some prehistoric Indian groups had lived on mounds in Suriname would remain unknown for another sixty years!
The 1900-1945 period: documentation of Suriname's Indian cultures
The two first decades of the 20th century witnessed optimism and new initiatives in Suriname and there was renewed interest for Suriname in the Netherlands. The symbol of this period seems to be Governor Lely (1902-1905), who initiated the construction of the railway connecting Paramaribo and the gold fields in the central eastern parts of the country. He also stimulated the exploration of the interior of the country.
The previous expeditions in the neighboring countries (into British Guiana by the Schomburgk brothers during the 1830s and 1840s and by Brown and Im Thurm during the 1870s and 1880s; into French Guiana by Crevaux and Coudreau during the 1870s and 1880s) had yielded much information on the Indian populations of the interior of these countries. Large parts of the border rivers, Marowijne and Corantijn, had been explored and described during these expeditons (Figure 3). A systematic exploration to fill up the white areas on the Suriname map started relatively late, however. The Nickerie River was explored in 1900, the Coppename in 1901, the Saramacca in 1902/1903, the Lawa (Gonini-expedition) in 1903/1904, the Tapanahony in 1904, the Toemak-Hoemak area in 1907, the Suriname River in 1908, and the Corantijn in 1910/1911.
Published reports of all these trips presented information on the Indian groups of Suriname's interior. Some archaeological finds were also reported, especially grinding-groove complexes, petroglyphs and a few stone axes and other artefacts. Worth mentioning is the participation of Navy officer C.H. de Goeje in three expeditions (Lawa/Gonini, Tapanahony and Toemak-Hoemak; (Figure 4). He reported on the last expedition (De Goeje, 1908) and published also linguistic and ethnographic studies on Suriname's Indians (De Goeje, 1906, 1928). He specialized during the later part of his career (from 1924 on) in the ethnography of northern South America.
The information available on Suriname's Indians increased significantly by these expeditions and the resulting publications. A curious publication on Indian culture is formed by the three volumes of the Penard brothers (Penard & Penard, 1907/1908) 'De menschetende aanbidders van de zonneslang' (= The cannibalistic worshippers of the sunsnake). These brothers are comparable to Hering in several respects: they were self-made men born in Paramaribo with an interest in zoology (birds) and Indians.
In the period up to 1945, three persons made expeditions to the south of the country that yielded much information on Indian culture (Figure 5): Ahlbrinck, Geijskes and Schmidt. Missionary W. Ahlbrinck made two trips: one in 1926 to the Koetari and Aramatau Rivers in the upper Corantijn Basin, and one in 1938 to the Lawa, Litanie, and Oelemarie Rivers (Ahlbrinck, 1929, 1956). His extensive study 'Encyclopedie der Karaïben' is a unique document on the culture of the Galibi Indians (Ahlbrinck, 1931). Geijskes, in his early Surinam career a government biologist, made a trip to the Oajanas of the Litanie in 1939 to study their curare poison. His report gives much information on this group (Geijskes, 1957). Baas Lodewijk Schmidt, the Gansee-born foreman of expeditions in the thirties, made three trips to the Oajana and Trio Indians near the southern border in the 1940-1942 period. His publication (Schmidt & Stahel, 1942) contains much information on these two groups.
Knowledge of Indians and Indian culture generated a true interest, which is basic to understand the interest in archaeology of the postwar period. It also enhanced the wish to have a museum as a center of expositions and of research, similar to the Walther Roth museum in Georgetown (British Guiana).
The archaeological publications in the pre-1945 period are fairly scarce. Ten Kate published an overview of Suriname's archaeology in the 1914/1917 encyclopedia, essentially a review of the material collected by Hering and himself. Penard & Penard (1917) published a paper on stone axes. Forester Gonggrijp (1920/1921) and biologist Stahel (1921/1922) published papers on petroglyphs. De Goeje (1932) published a study on 'Amazon stones'.
The 1945-1972 period:excavations and museum activities
The Stichting Surinaams Museum (SSM, Suriname Museum Foundation) was founded in 1947. The Board finally found, seven years later, a suitable building for their expositions, library, and other activities. Most active during the early years were Dr. Ferrier (a teacher, school inspector and parliament member at the time; later Prime Minister, Governor, and first President; he was for a long time patron of the Stichting Surinaams Museum) and Dr. Geijskes. The latter had an internationally renowned insect collection and much ethnographical material of the Oajana and Trio Indians , obtained in 1939 and 1952 (Geijskes, 1957). Moreover, he had excavated archaeological material in sand ridges (cheniers) near (Figure 6) and in Paramaribo. Sand/shell quarrying (Figure 7) for the extended and improved road system, required during the booming of Suriname during World War II, had brought to light these archaeological sites (Geijskes, 1952).
The excavated artefacts were analyzed in 1951 by Peter R. Goethals, a student of Prof C. Osgood of Yale University (the latter had published on the archaeology of British Guiana in 1946). He studied objects that turned out to belong to the Kwatta (Figure 8) and Koriabo cultures. He also did some excavation work on sites near Paramaribo and in the Coronie and Marowijne districts (Goethals, 1953, unpublished). This was, together with Geijskes' digging referred to above, the first archaeological excavation work since Hering finished his Belladrum excavations in Coronie in 1898.
In 1954, when the SSM opened the doors of its museum at Commewijnestraat 18, Zorg en Hoop (a quarter of Paramaribo), little was known and even less published about pre-Columbian times. The first Director of the museum, Dr. D.C. Geijskes, tried to improve this situation. Without doubt he was stimulated by the research of Meggers & Evans (1955) in British Guiana. He got his chance when pedologist Dost discovered an artificial mound (the Hertenrits: [Figure 9]) in the western coastal plain. Aerial photographs made by pilot Kappel had shown up enigmatic patterns in the swampy area at this site. Geijskes tried to get professional help from the Rijksdienst Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek (State Archaeological Soil Survey) in the Netherlands through Mr. Feriz, an amateur archaeologist with an honorary position at the Museum of the Tropics in Amsterdam (Feriz, 1957).
Geijskes began excavations himself in October 1957, helped by a crew of field assistants, when it turned out that no help came (the Survey needed its entire budget to start prehistoric archaeological research in the Netherlands). Geijskes, aware that he was not really qualified, but also aware that he would not destroy more than an extremely small part of the mound, made seven excavation pits of 2-3 m depth in the large Hertenrits clay mound (Figure 10); a film of the excavation was made by P. Creutzberg. The drawings and the excavated materials were brought to the museum.
Geijskes wrote a report on the excavation but did not publish it (Geijskes, 1959b), probably because the excavated pottery was 'new' for the Guianas. Some of the results were discussed in one of his papers for the first Archaeological Congress of the Lesser Antilles, in 1961 (Geijskes, 1964); he reported extensively on this conference (Geijskes, 1961/1962). This conference was in the middle of his 'busy' archaeological years (1957-1963).
In spite of the limited support that Geijskes received for his work, his contacts with professionals in the Netherlands had some positive effects: the Survey offered him the possibility to publish some of the findings in their periodical; Mrs. Laeyendecker-Roosenburg of the Hugo de Vries Laboratory in Amsterdam came to Suriname for palynological studies (Laeyendecker-Roosenburg, 1964); Tacoma studied and reported on the skeletal material, from both the Hertenrits and the Kwatta Tingiholo site (Tacoma, 1963); and Glazema (1964) visited Suriname and advised the Surinam government to establish an archaeological-ethnological institute (his visit was paid by STICUSA, the Foundation for Cultural Cooperation Suriname/Netherlands Antilles), which may have contributed to the foundation, in 1965 (the same year that Geijskes left Suriname), of the Archaeological Institute as part of the SSM.
The relatively limited publicity given to the Hertenrits excavation was no exception, although Geijskes published soon after the 1958 fieldwork at the Onverdacht site (Geijskes, 1959a) and that at the Commetewane-1/2 sites (Geijskes, 1960/1961b). These sites had yielded Koriabo pottery for which Geijskes found comparisons in the material published by Meggers & Evans (1955). His next excavation, at Wonotobo Falls in 1962, yielded Mabaruma pottery, and also painted pottery that was unknown from the neighboring countries. Again Geijskes did not publish it; an internal report (Geijskes, 1962) was labeled 'secret'. Other excavations were done at Moricokreek in Commewijne, and at Coeroeni Island in the interior. Geijskes was in a favorable position as head of the 'Operation Grasshopper' to combine his activities of archaeological excavation and the construction of air fields (many air fields in the Caribbean prove to be archaeological sites, probably because air fields require the same properties as Indian sites: relatively flat, elevated, well-drained land). It was a period when the infrastructure of Suriname was being expanded considerably (Geijskes, 1960/1961a; Tacoma et al., 1991).
Apart from Hertenrits, Geijskes' largest and most important excavation was that at Kwatta Tingiholo, near Paramaribo, in 1961/1962 (Geijskes in Tacoma et al., 1991). Important archaeological material such as complete pottery vessels, complete burials and small rhyolite frog-shaped artefacts were excavated. In these years Mr. P. Bolwerk was his assistant. Another site worth mentioning, excavated by Geijskes in 1961, was Moengo-Bushmanhill (Heldring, 1975; Versteeg, 1979). After Geijskes had left Suriname in 1965, his archaeological work was formally continued by Bolwerk until the latter also left the country, in 1970.
Actually Geijskes' archaeological work was continued by forester Bubberman, often assisted by geologist Janssen. They both were members of the Board of the SSM. They found numerous archaeological sites (Figure 11), they collected artefacts and they considered the sites within their ecological context. They presented the results in the museum of the SSM. More than two hundred archaeological sites were thus added to the modest number known prior to 1965.
The administrative work of the museum was done by Father Abbenhuis in the period 1965-1967, by F. Haverschmidt in 1967 and by Bolwerk (1967-1970). Bubberman and Janssen discovered many pre-ceramic sites in the Sipaliwini Savanna in 1968, 1969, and 1972, after (again!) Dost had found the first ones there in 1962.
In 1970, J. van der Heide, a student of pedology at Wageningen Agricultural University, made some excavation pits in the Hertenrits and in the surrounding raised fields, aiming to set Laeyendecker-Roosenburg's palynological observations in a wider framework. An extensive report on the results was written for the Soil Survey Department (DBK) in Paramaribo (Van der Heide, 1973). In 1970 the advisory tasks on archaeological matters of Glazema had been taken over by Modderman, at the time a professor of prehistoric archaeology at Leiden. STICUSA sent one of his graduated students, E.H.J. Boerstra, to the Netherlands Antilles for two years. Modderman and Boerstra visited Suriname in 1972. Two more students from Leiden came subsequently to Suriname: B.S. Mitrasingh to write a Master's thesis on the Kwatta Tingiholo site and on artefacts excavated by Geijskes (Mitrasingh, 1976), and Mrs. B. Heldring to report on Geijskes' Moengo-Bushmanhill material (Heldring, 1975).
The period from 1972 to present
The beautifully restored Fort Zeelandia was donated to the SSM in 1972, but the ever-useful old building at Zorg en Hoop remained available. The archaeological exposition in the Indian Room in the new Zeelandia museum was set up by the Board members Bubberman and Janssen. An archaeological laboratory, as well as the museum's library stayed at Zorg en Hoop. The dynamic J. Douglas (see Versteeg, 1982, for his contributions to Suriname's archaeology) was appointed Director in the same year.
As a result of the activities of Douglas, Bubberman, Janssen and Modderman on a decision-making level and of STICUSA on a financial level, the first professional archaeologist to have an appointment for a relatively long period, A. Boomert, arrived in 1973. Boomert was confronted with a large number of artefacts that had not been published about adequately. He reported on these collections. In some cases, when the material was interesting enough, he did additional field excavations. After two years, he presented a paper on Suriname's raised fields at the International Archaeological Caribbean Congress in Guadeloupe (Boomert, 1976). He returned to Leiden in 1975, where he received a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Tropical Research to prepare a Ph.D. thesis. This was intended to consist of a number of papers on Suriname's archaeology. In 1981, before the thesis had been completed, he left Holland for a post in Trinidad.
Apart from archaeological works on the Guianas, Amazonia and the Caribbean, Boomert published a number of papers on Suriname's prehistoric cultures (Figure 12), mostly based on artefacts and information collected by Geijskes, Bubberman and Janssen. They dealt with the Hertenrits (Boomert, 1980a: unfortunately only part 1 of the complete paper was published until now), with the pre-ceramic Sipaliwini cultures (Boomert, 1980b), with the colonial-period Taruma (Boomert, 1981), with the Wonotobo site (Boomert, 1983), and with Barbakoeba (Boomert, 1993). He also published a classification of stone axes, in a wider geographical context (Boomert, 1979).
The present author was archaeologist of the SSM (paid from the Dutch development funds that became available after Suriname's independency) from 1975-1981. Versteeg and Boomert agreed upon their working fields: Boomert would publish about the 'old' material; the present author would try to collect new information in the field. Two assistants (Mrs. A. Soedhoe and M. Sheombar) were appointed for the purpose and received a field training at the Kwatta Tingiholo site near Paramaribo. The first site tested was Kaurikreek (Figure 13), situated near the Apoera railway. It was discovered during the construction of this railway by Wilschut and Bubberman. It proved to be the oldest site in Suriname with decorated ceramics. The site was discussed during the 1977 International Archaeological Caribbean Conference in Caracas (Versteeg, 1978).
In 1978, Buckleburg-1 (discovered by pedologist L.J. Pons in 1964 during fieldwork to establish the stratigraphy of the coastal plain; the work was continued and refined by Brinkman & Pons, 1968; Augustinus, 1978; Roeleveld & Van Loon, 1979; Wong, 1989) and Wageningen-1 (Figure 14)(both mounds near the Hertenrits), Peruvia and Prins Bernhard Polder were tested by staff members and students of the Quaternary Geological Department of Amsterdam Free University, and of the Suriname Museum team. This field research (Figure 15) yielded information for several publications, by Roeleveld & Van Loon (1979), Bruinsma (1979) and Versteeg (1983c, 1985). Preliminary results were discussed during the 8th International Archaeological Caribbean Congress at St. Kitts in 1979 (Versteeg, 1980b). The vegetation of four mounds in the same area was investigated by Mrs. Werkhoven of the Herbarium of Paramaribo's University (Werkhoven & Versteeg, 1980). The information on the western Suriname coastal sites was retrieved in about twelve months of field work, spread over 1978, 1979, and 1980. In eastern Suriname, the Pondokreek site was investigated in 1980 with the help of heavy equipment of the Forestry Department. Indians had dug here in the past (without fuel-driven machines!) a ditch of approx. 300 m long, 5 m wide and more than 2 m deep, on the higher part of a hill. It is an unusual site, at the junction of a creek; it proved to be about 1200 years old. The layout of the 'trench' and the find patterns (which are similar to that of comparable trenches in French Guiana) suggest a ceremonial function of the site (Versteeg, 1981, 1983d). The camp site for other field investigations was the Trio village Kwamalasamoetoe, on the Sipaliwini River. Several sites were discovered in this area. Petroglyph sites were visited, and the Indian activities in the village and in their gardens were studied (Versteeg, 1980c). After having returned to Leiden, Versteeg (1985) wrote his Ph.D. dissertation (on a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Tropical Research) on the sites of the western Suriname coastal plain. Additional investigations were carried out in the 1981-1983 period. These included an archive study into the activities of pioneer Hering (Versteeg, 1983a,b). An overview of the results of studies on the western Suriname sites was discussed at a symposium during the 44th Congress of Americanists in Manchester, England (Versteeg, 1983c).
The third professional archaeologist, B.S. Mitrasingh, succeeded Versteeg at the end of 1980. The Archaeological Institute, which had been part of the SSM became, at the same time, a separate institute as a part of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Mitrasingh started a program oriented on education in the economically difficult eighties (Mitrasingh, 1988). Together with a physical anthropologist, M.R. Khudabux, he excavated the Kwatta Tingiholo site (1983-1986). Part of Khudabux' dissertation discusses physical anthropological results of this research (Khudabux, 1991). Additional publications primarily focusing on the physical anthropology of Suriname's prehistoric inhabitants are those by Khudabux & Bruintjes (1988), Khudabux et al. (1991) and Tacoma et al. (1991).
Physical-anthropological studies (such as those discussed in the above paragraph) are only one - specific - part of archaeology. In practice, they are often performed more or less together with the study of other remains found at archaeological sites.
There are some more types of studies, however, which are relevant for archaeology. They may be carried out in a laboratory, or they may be field studies of a different kind. Petroglyphs, radiocarbon datings, and anthropology/ethnography are examples of the objects of such studies. They, and their impact on archaeology, merit a short, separate discussion.
Petroglyphs were among the first archaeologica to be described in the last century. Thanks to C.N. Dubelaar, a teacher in Suriname in the 1951-1966 period, the Surinam petroglyphs have been studied, described, and published. Dubelaar (1986b) received a Ph.D. from Leiden University for his studies on petroglyphs of South America and the Antilles. He also published an inventory of petroglyphs of the Guianas (Dubelaar, 1986a).
Since approx. 1960, ages of organic archaeological objects can be established with C-14 techniques. Samples were collected in Suriname and subsequently dated in the Groningen laboratory during two periods; fourteen samples from eleven sites collected by Geijskes were dated between 1957 and 1962, whereas twenty-five samples from seven sites collected by Versteeg (including two samples collected by J. van der Heide in the Hertenrits; see Versteeg, 1985) were dated between 1976 and 1980. The results were published by Vogel & Waterbolk (1964), Vogel & Lerman (1969), Versteeg (1979, 1980d, 1985) and Van Klinken (1991).
Van Klinken's specialised research deserves some attention here. He dated two bone samples from Kwatta Tingiholo, using A(ccelerator) M(ass) S(pectometry) techniques; they yielded ages of, respectively, 1510 ± 50 BP and 1025 ± 50 BP. Van Klinken states, however, that a correction for marine reservoir effect must be applied to these figures: the real age should be 1380 ± 50 BP (GrN-12912) and 895 ± 50 BP (Grn-12913). The first figure is older than the ages obtained up to now for samples from the cultural layer at Tingiholo. Van Klinken mentions that the latter sample was made up of "bone of bad quality", so that not too much weight should be given to this result. The other sample is of better quality and its dating is consistent with the three other Tingiholo samples from the cultural layers.
Van Klinken also tried to reconstruct the diet on the basis of isotopic analysis of the amino acids in the bone collagen of two individuals from Kwatta Tingiholo. He did the same for six individuals from Peruvia, three individuals from Wageningen-1, and one individual excavated by Hering 'near Belladrum' in Coronie in the last century. The most important conclusion for the Surinam populations is that the 13 values are more suggestive of C3 plants (cassava) than of C4 plants (maize). This specialised technique, and the interpretation of the results, however, is still under development.
Ethnography and anthropology
These disciplines have greatly contributed to the understanding of past and present Indian cultures. Without doubt, it has paved the way for archaeological research in Suriname before 1945; general descriptions in which the material culture is described are most useful for the archaeologist.
After 1945, anthropological research continued in an intensified, and often more specialised, way. Some post-war publications, however, are of a more general nature (e.g.: De Boer, 1970; Geijskes, 1970; Kloos, 1977, 1980; Effert, 1979). Extensive studies by Rivière (1969) and Kloos (1971) also provide much useful information on the Trio and the Galibi groups, respectively. Other useful studies are those on the history of specific groups (e.g.: Buve, 1966; Kloos, 1973; Whitehead, 1988).
Some overviews of Suriname's archaeology have been published for a general public. The first ones were written by Bubberman (1974) and Janssen (1974). These were followed by contributions by Boomert (1977a,b) and Bubberman (1977) to the Encyclopedia of Suriname (Bruijning & Voorhoeve, 1977). New data and interpretations gained since were presented by Versteeg (1983d). A more extensive and detailed overview was published by Versteeg & Bubberman (1992).
In retrospect, most of the information available today and most of the insights we have now into Suriname's prehistory appear to have been collected from 1957 on - the year during which Geijskes started excavating the Hertenrits site. Fieldwork that supplied most of our current data was carried out during the 1957-1963 and the 1977-1981 periods, by only two investigators, Geijskes and Versteeg, respectively. The results of the field campaigns were published by both them and by Boomert. They relied largely on Bubberman as an outstanding site-finder. Important specialist studies were carried out by Khudabux, Tacoma (physical anthropology) and Dubelaar (petroglyphs).
Suriname's prehistory was investigated during the past 125 years by people belonging to three different groups as regards their professional background:
1. well educated amateurs who had not completed a university training in archaeology or an 'archaeology-related' field of study (examples are Hering, Dubelaar and De Goeje in the first part of his life - he became a professor in ethnology later);
2. versatile scientists who had completed university training in a field that is 'archaeology-related', such as geology, pedology, botany, zoology, forestry, [physical] anthropology; this is a really large group in Suriname: Ten Kate, Gonggrijp, Feriz, Janssen, Tacoma, Werkhoven, Kroonenberg and, above all, Geijskes and Bubberman;
3. professional archaeologists who worked in Suriname and had a completed archaeology training: Boomert (1973-1975), Versteeg (1975-1980) and Mitrasingh (1981-present). Glazema, Modderman and Boerstra were professional archaeologists that had advisory functions in the sixties and early seventies (the STICUSA period).
There is ample room, in retrospect, for critical observations. The question as to the
representivity of our present archaeological record in respect to the cultures of the past
was discussed elsewhere (Versteeg & Bubberman, 1992). Another aspect should be
discussed here: it seems that archaeologists in Suriname have limited themselves largely
to descriptions of what they found and excavated. Doing so, they often followed methods
and patterns developed in the areas in the world where they had been trained. For
instance, bird bones found at sites were interpreted as faunal (= food) remains (e.g.
Versteeg, 1985). In Indian cultures in Amazonia, however, the use of feathers is much more
prominent than the use of birds as food. It is therefore more logical to connect the bird
bones to feather use than to food, especially in the case of flamingo and stork species
(see Versteeg, 1985).
The step from the description of finds to the reconstruction of the former cultures has not been set as yet. We should try harder on several levels: by excavating on a larger scale (and thus obtaining more primary information) and by wider-scope interpretations (that deepen the insight in the societies that lived in Suriname before Columbus.
A comparison of the ethnographical with the archaeological record shows that important differences between the two exist. The archaeological record has models of its own, without doubt; the ethnographical record can be used for a number of comparisons. Solving the questions about the how and why of the resemblances and differences is an important task and should be considered a prime objective for future research.
The author thanks Daniel Schoepf of the Ethnographical Museum in Geneva for supplying an original photograph of the Surinam artefact that came into the possession of (the predecessor of) this museum in 1759. The museum kindly gave permission for the reproduction of the photograph. Several photographs made by the late Dr. D.C. Geijskes and donated to the author were used in gratitude. George P. Hering is thanked for supplying, and for his permission to reproduce, the portrait of his great-grandfather. Frans Bubberman and Joost Janssen are thanked for supplying photographs, and for their criticism and helpful comment on a preliminary draft of this paper. Jan Pauptit (Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University) improved the quality of several old photographs by reprinting them with modern methods.
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Versteeg, A.H., 1981: A fortified pre-Columbian village in East Suriname? - Meded. Surinaams Museum 33, p. 38-49.
Versteeg, A.H. 1982: De bijdrage van J. Douglas aan de archeologie van Suriname - Meded. Surinaams Museum, Extra ed. March 1982, p. 17.
Versteeg, A.H., 1983a: Vergeten historie. Archeologisch onderzoek in Suriname door C.J. Hering - Verre Naasten Naderbij 17 (1), p. 11-25.
Versteeg, A.H., 1983b: The archaeological investigations in Suriname of C.J. Hering. In: Buve, R. & Lechner, J. (eds): Latijns Amerika-studies in Leiden 1982 - Werkgr. Latijns Amer, Univ. Leiden, p. 7-19.
Versteeg, A.H., 1983c: Raised field complexes and associated settlements in the coastal plain of Western Suriname. In: Darch, J.P. (ed.): Drained field agriculture in Central and South America - BAR Intern. Ser. 189, p. 237-251.
Versteeg, A.H., 1983d: Recent archaeological investigations in Suriname - Suralco Mag. 15 (1), p. 1-9.
Versteeg, A.H., 1985: The prehistory of the young coastal plain of West Suriname - Ber. Rijksd. Oudheidk. Bodemonderzoek 35, p. 653-750.
Versteeg, A.H., 1995: The occurrence of petroglyphs in the Lesser Antilles and the Virgin Islands. In: Dubelaar, C.N. (ed.): The petroglyphs of the lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad. Publ. Found. Sci. Res. Caribbean Region 135: p. 22-25.
Versteeg, A.H. & Bubberman, F.C., 1992: Suriname before Columbus - Meded. Surinaams Museum 49a, 64 pp.
Vogel, J.C. & Lerman, J.C., 1969: Groningen radiocarbon dates VIII - Radiocarbon 11, p. 351-390. Vogel, J.C. & Waterbolk, H.T., 1964: Groningen radiocarbon dates V - Radiocarbon 6, p. 349-369.
Werkhoven M.C.M. & Versteeg, A.H., 1980: The vegetation of four mounds in the coastal plain of Suriname - Meded. Surinaams Museum 32, p. 8-37.
Whitehead, N.L., 1988: Lords of the Tiger Spirit - Foris Publ., Dordrecht, 250 pp.
Wong, Th.E., 1989: Revision of the stratigraphy of the coastal plain of Suriname - Publ. Found. Sci. Res. Caribbean Region, Amsterdam 125, 64 pp.
More titles on Suriname's archaeology are to be found in the (Suriname before Columbus)article.
Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience TNO / Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Last update July 2000