Archeological dig at Cuba slave plantation open to Nova Scotia students

Students from Nova Scotia and across Canada are being given an opportunity to work on an archeological dig at a massive 19th century coffee plantation in Cuba.

The Angerona Coffee Plantation, a national historic site in Havana province on the western side of the island, was established in 1813 by a German businessman named Cornelio Souchay.

At its peak, the plantation had hundreds of thousands of coffee bushes worked by 450 slaves.

"When you walk around the site, you really feel the history," Saint Mary's University professor Aaron Taylor told CBC's Information Morning on Friday.

"The plantation existed for 70 years. People were born there and died there."

Joint effort of Cubans and Nova Scotians

Taylor is heading the trip, which takes place June 3 to June 17. It is open to all Nova Scotia university students, not just those attending Saint Mary's University in Halifax, and will be a joint effort with Cuban students and archeologists.

Cuban people see the plantation ruins as an important place, "a sacred place," Taylor said.

One task will be to excavate the slave barracks.

"We want to get an idea of how people lived. If they lived in family units or were segregated according to gender. We hope to be able to answer those questions," Taylor said.

"They didn't have much. The things they had they created, they modified."

The plantation's main mansion ruins are still standing, as are its watch tower, overseer's cottage and aquaducts.

Telling the story of people who didn't have a voice

It is a place of beauty despite its dark past, Taylor said.

"We want to bring a human story to a very dehumanizing system. Slaves were treated like animals, treated as chattel, like cows and chickens. We can help tell the story of people marginalized, who didn't have a voice."

The trip will benefit students as it "is important for young people to immerse themselves in another culture," he said.

"Right now, the world is becoming a place of 'us' and 'them.' Becoming friends with people in other countries … they stop being 'them.'"

Students who hope to join the dig can contact Taylor at c.aarontaylor@gmail.com. The deadline is March 31.