Hurricane Irma update: On ravaged Barbuda, an archaeology center tries to pick up the pieces

  • mantouchong
  • 2017-09-13
  • 11℃

Hurricane Irma passes the eastern end of Cuba on the morning of 8 September.

NOAA/CIRA

Hurricane Irma update: On ravaged Barbuda, an archaeology center tries to pick up the pieces

Deadly Hurricane Irma has subsided after tearing across the Carribean and Florida. Millions are still without power, and officials are still assessing casualties.

Prior to the storm’s arrival in Florida, The Scientist reported that many researchers were racing to stormproof their equipment and back up data and experimental material that could be damaged. Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory was lashed hard by the hurricane this past Wednesday but came through apparently unscathed, Space.com reports. The U.S. Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, headquartered at Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, posted poststorm images on Twitter, revealing only light damage and no injuries to staff.

ScienceInsider is continuing to track how Irma is affecting researchers, so email dmalakof@aaas.org and let us know your story. 

—Michael Price

A truck owned by the Barbuda Archaeological Research Center sits in floodwaters from Hurricane Irma. The island’s historic Martello Tower is in the background.

Sheville Charles

In Barbuda, an archaeological research station tries to pick up the pieces

Every January for the past 10 years, archaeologist Sophia Perdikaris has taken students from Brooklyn College in New York City to a research center and affiliated field sites on Barbuda, one half of the Caribbean island nation Antigua and Barbuda. If she takes students again this year, things will look dramatically different than they have in the past. Last Wednesday, Hurricane Irma—a Category-5 storm at that point—lashed the small island, population 1600, all but destroying the Barbuda Archaeological Research Center and its field sites.

Perdikaris, a professor at Brooklyn College, studies human and animal remains on islands across the Caribbean. Working with a team of locals, she studies pre-Columbian human remains on Barbuda.

“I think I was in tears the entire week,” she says. “[The Barbudans] become like a family; it becomes like a second home.”

Perdikaris was in New York City during the storm, but locals who live and work at the research station kept her apprised of the damage. Winds gusting up to 310 kilometers per hour stripped the island of its vegetation—300-year-old tamarind trees and 150-year-old mangroves. Livestock and wild animals alike were killed. One of the center’s two horses, Governor, was killed by flying debris. Its two dogs are missing. “The entire island smells of death,” she says.

Thankfully, the Barbudan volunteer staffer and her family who rode out the storm were unscathed. The physical building suffered relatively minor damage, but much of the center’s outdoor equipment and weather station were destroyed.

Perdikaris will be visiting the island in a couple of weeks to formally assess the damage. The field sites are remote and the cars mostly destroyed, so she suspects she’ll be riding out on the center’s surviving horse, Make Way, a hardy, 19-year-old stallion that is something of a mascot for Perdikaris’s team. And she expects that when archaeological work ultimately resumes, she and her team will essentially be starting from scratch.

“From an archaeological perspective, we have nothing left,” she says. “[The storm] has destroyed a lot of the materials, but it has not destroyed the spirit.”

Still, she is looking for silver linings wherever she can find them. When Hurricane Georges hit the island in 1998, it stripped off layers of earth and revealed one of the island’s archaeological jewels: the well-preserved skeleton of an adult male who lived around 450 C.E. Who knows what old stones and bones have been unearthed by Irma?

Even in the midst of the devastation to her research, Perdikaris is more concerned with rebuilding Barbuda, feeding and sheltering its people and helping them get back to life as usual. The storm killed many deer and fruit trees that the people rely on for sustenance. The island’s police station was destroyed, so the police have converted the small museum that houses the ancient Barbudan skeleton into a temporary headquarters.

Perdikaris believes her team’s archaeological work can play a part in the rebuilding. Learning about the past reminds, she says, can remind islanders that throughout the years, Barbudans have persevered.

Michael Price

In Florida, storm warnings scramble doctoral training meeting

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—Earlier this week, the plan was to spend two leisurely days of presentations and discussions here sharing insights from an ambitious National Institutes of Health (NIH) program aimed at revamping training for the next generation of biomedical science Ph.D.s. But the pending arrival of Hurricane Irma threw those plans off kilter.

Late this past Tuesday, as Florida officials began warning state residents to prepare for the worst, organizers of the Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) Practices Workshop and an affiliated Association of American Colleges (AAMC) meeting announced they were cancelling the AAMC meeting, and urged those who had signed up to stay home. “Your safety, well-being, and time are of utmost importance to us,” an email from AAMC meeting organizers said. “At the very least, it is clear that flight cancellations and delays will be inevitable.”

The email, sent 14 hours before the 2-day BEST workshop was set to begin, came too late for about 80 administrators and professors who had already arrived for the workshop. (Two hundred were registered to attend, according to organizers.) So organizers opted to start the workshop 2 hours early and pack it into 1 day. Despite the condensing, attendees seeking ideas on how to improve career development programs at their institutions said the workshop, which took place this past Wednesday, was worthwhile.

But getting back home before Irma hit Florida was a pressing issue. Some rushed to move up flights, while others devised plan Bs for getting home. For two attendees, that meant leaving yesterday for a 16-hour drive back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which should have offered plenty of time to discuss what they heard at the workshop.

Maggie Kuo

Hurricane Irma passes the eastern end of Cuba on the morning of 8 September.

NOAA/CIRA

Hurricane Irma update: On ravaged Barbuda, an archaeology center tries to pick up the pieces

Deadly Hurricane Irma has subsided after tearing across the Carribean and Florida. Millions are still without power, and officials are still assessing casualties.

Prior to the storm’s arrival in Florida, The Scientist reported that many researchers were racing to stormproof their equipment and back up data and experimental material that could be damaged. Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory was lashed hard by the hurricane this past Wednesday but came through apparently unscathed, Space.com reports. The U.S. Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, headquartered at Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, posted poststorm images on Twitter, revealing only light damage and no injuries to staff.

ScienceInsider is continuing to track how Irma is affecting researchers, so email dmalakof@aaas.org and let us know your story. 

—Michael Price

A truck owned by the Barbuda Archaeological Research Center sits in floodwaters from Hurricane Irma. The island’s historic Martello Tower is in the background.

Sheville Charles

In Barbuda, an archaeological research station tries to pick up the pieces

Every January for the past 10 years, archaeologist Sophia Perdikaris has taken students from Brooklyn College in New York City to a research center and affiliated field sites on Barbuda, one half of the Caribbean island nation Antigua and Barbuda. If she takes students again this year, things will look dramatically different than they have in the past. Last Wednesday, Hurricane Irma—a Category-5 storm at that point—lashed the small island, population 1600, all but destroying the Barbuda Archaeological Research Center and its field sites.

Perdikaris, a professor at Brooklyn College, studies human and animal remains on islands across the Caribbean. Working with a team of locals, she studies pre-Columbian human remains on Barbuda.

“I think I was in tears the entire week,” she says. “[The Barbudans] become like a family; it becomes like a second home.”

Perdikaris was in New York City during the storm, but locals who live and work at the research station kept her apprised of the damage. Winds gusting up to 310 kilometers per hour stripped the island of its vegetation—300-year-old tamarind trees and 150-year-old mangroves. Livestock and wild animals alike were killed. One of the center’s two horses, Governor, was killed by flying debris. Its two dogs are missing. “The entire island smells of death,” she says.

Thankfully, the Barbudan volunteer staffer and her family who rode out the storm were unscathed. The physical building suffered relatively minor damage, but much of the center’s outdoor equipment and weather station were destroyed.

Perdikaris will be visiting the island in a couple of weeks to formally assess the damage. The field sites are remote and the cars mostly destroyed, so she suspects she’ll be riding out on the center’s surviving horse, Make Way, a hardy, 19-year-old stallion that is something of a mascot for Perdikaris’s team. And she expects that when archaeological work ultimately resumes, she and her team will essentially be starting from scratch.

“From an archaeological perspective, we have nothing left,” she says. “[The storm] has destroyed a lot of the materials, but it has not destroyed the spirit.”

Still, she is looking for silver linings wherever she can find them. When Hurricane Georges hit the island in 1998, it stripped off layers of earth and revealed one of the island’s archaeological jewels: the well-preserved skeleton of an adult male who lived around 450 C.E. Who knows what old stones and bones have been unearthed by Irma?

Even in the midst of the devastation to her research, Perdikaris is more concerned with rebuilding Barbuda, feeding and sheltering its people and helping them get back to life as usual. The storm killed many deer and fruit trees that the people rely on for sustenance. The island’s police station was destroyed, so the police have converted the small museum that houses the ancient Barbudan skeleton into a temporary headquarters.

Perdikaris believes her team’s archaeological work can play a part in the rebuilding. Learning about the past reminds, she says, can remind islanders that throughout the years, Barbudans have persevered.

Michael Price

In Florida, storm warnings scramble doctoral training meeting

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—Earlier this week, the plan was to spend two leisurely days of presentations and discussions here sharing insights from an ambitious National Institutes of Health (NIH) program aimed at revamping training for the next generation of biomedical science Ph.D.s. But the pending arrival of Hurricane Irma threw those plans off kilter.

Late this past Tuesday, as Florida officials began warning state residents to prepare for the worst, organizers of the Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) Practices Workshop and an affiliated Association of American Colleges (AAMC) meeting announced they were cancelling the AAMC meeting, and urged those who had signed up to stay home. “Your safety, well-being, and time are of utmost importance to us,” an email from AAMC meeting organizers said. “At the very least, it is clear that flight cancellations and delays will be inevitable.”

The email, sent 14 hours before the 2-day BEST workshop was set to begin, came too late for about 80 administrators and professors who had already arrived for the workshop. (Two hundred were registered to attend, according to organizers.) So organizers opted to start the workshop 2 hours early and pack it into 1 day. Despite the condensing, attendees seeking ideas on how to improve career development programs at their institutions said the workshop, which took place this past Wednesday, was worthwhile.

But getting back home before Irma hit Florida was a pressing issue. Some rushed to move up flights, while others devised plan Bs for getting home. For two attendees, that meant leaving yesterday for a 16-hour drive back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which should have offered plenty of time to discuss what they heard at the workshop.

Maggie Kuo

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