Raymond Knops. File photo.
THE HAGUE–Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops has left it up to the St. Eustatius government to give the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament an update on the excavations at the historic Golden Rock burial ground.
The Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations mid-September this year had asked for the state of affairs with regard to the archaeological excavations near the St. Eustatius airport. The excavations by the St. Eustatius Centre for Archaeological Research (SECAR) were stopped after it became clear that it involved a large burial ground of enslaved people.
In his letter to the Second Chamber, Knops pointed out that the archaeological excavations resorted under the responsibility of the Statia government commissioner and that the role of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW was limited to “following the case and giving advice where necessary.”
As such, the Statia government commissioner was asked to respond to the request of Parliament. In a response letter dated October 4, Acting Government Commissioner Claudia Toet gave an update on the archaeological excavations, the establishing of the Statia Heritage Research Commission (SHRC) and the three phases of the research.
Because the excavations caused quite a stir on the island, the project was not only adjourned for an undefined period, but an independent committee made up of heritage and archaeology experts was also established on September 17, 2021.
The committee focuses on two main issues. The committee will evaluate the process at the former Golden Rock Plantation burial ground and recommend on how to continue with this project. The committee will also give advice on research practices with regard to cultural heritage on St. Eustatius, including recommendations on how to comply with international standards.
After the preparatory phase, the second phase of the committee has started in which it works with four separate sub-groups, each of which represent a leader of the Statia community, an anthropologist, an archaeologist and a heritage specialist.
The four sub-groups will assess the situation at the excavation area and prepare an individual evaluation. The conclusions of these four sub-groups will be combined in a final evaluation report.
An important part of the committee’s work in the second phase is to look into the international standards for the handling of human remains and archaeological research. After that, the committee will assess whether SECAR properly implemented these international standards during the excavations at the Golden Rock burial ground.
The committee will furthermore present recommendations on how to apply international norms, the involvement of the community in heritage research and the respectful handling of artefact collections and the re-burial of human remains, Acting Government Commissioner Toet informed the Second Chamber.
In the third phase, the committee will organise a Statia community survey to check the public opinion this matter. Round table meetings later this year are a possibility. The conclusions of the committee’s research and recommendations will be stated in a final report which should be ready by the end of this year.