The island of Grenada has a rich history with much to explore. As a pivotal stepping-stone into the Caribbean archipelago, Grenada was home to thriving ports in the pre-Columbian ear. Historical accounts attest to the island being filled with “Caribs” or Kalinagos, who prevented successful European colonization until the French forcefully settled in 1649, 150 years after Columbus first sighted the island. Yet today, aside from the Leapers’ Hill footnote, it would seem Grenada has little to showcase for the thousands of years native peoples inhabited the island. Ask yourself, when a schoolchild or a teacher wants to learn more about Amerindians, where do they go? To the museum, of course! Yet the Grenada National Museum has not lived up to its educational potential.
In 1963, Ripley Bullen of the University of Florida surveyed Grenada and conducted limited
archaeological testing across the island. His seminal report on this work (The Archaeology of Grenada, West Indies, 1964) outlined the identification of sites and local ceramic typologies and laid the foundation for subsequent archaeological inquiries in Grenada. However, because there was no national museum at the time, there wasn’t a suitable place to house the artifactsunearthed. Because there also were no international cultural resource laws at the time, the artifacts (some 30,000 pieces) were simply transported to the University of Florida Natural History Museum (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/caribarch/sitesincollectionLA.htm), where they have remained ever since. To his credit, Bullen did leave a substantial number of artifacts on the island, to be used to help set up a museum. Today, these artifacts are unaccounted for! There was simply no institution to maintain and protect them on the island (they have likely been scattered across many collections). The artifacts at the University of Florida, on the other hand, could not have been in a better place. They are maintained in a sterile, pest-free, temperature-controlled facility where they will remain for many generations to come to study.
It is a sad state of affairs when a country as developed as Grenada has to outsource the management of its cultural heritage to another state. The Grenada National Museum (GNM) hopes to one day have access to these and other artifacts at various institutions. Firstly, however, the museum needs to have a proper facility to be kept its own artifacts safe. Thus, in 2012 the GNM embarked on an exciting restructuring planthat will transform the museum into one of Grenada’s most treasured institutions.
Aside from the lost Bullen artifacts, the museum has acquired various collections since its doors first opened in 1976. Like any museum, only a small percent of these acquisitions are on display.
Unfortunately, the “backroom” collection consists mostly of unsorted buckets and boxes. These are priceless objects made by extinct cultures hundreds and thousands of years ago! Once they’re destroyed, they can never be replaced or studied by future generations. Moreover, if the museum is to remain the repository and conservator of collections and archives- both public and private- we need to do better.
Hence, the Grenada National Museum is in the process of cataloging its archaeological artifact collection in the hope of making it available to the public for research. At the same time, the GNM is establishing a database of archaeological literature, especially on Grenada that researchers can access.