Montserrat was first settled at least 2,500 years ago by Amerindians from the Orinoco delta of South America (Miles and Munby 2006). The early colonial ethnographic accounts of European settlers and explorers recount very little about Amerindian cultures, but evidence from archaeological surveys based primarily in the eastern and southern parts of Montserrat attests to the presence of dozens of Arawak (Saladoid) and Taino sites in coastal areas (Watters 1980). David Watters has conducted intensive transect surveys in the south and east of Montserrat, and has recorded limited information about prehistoric sites in the north. With the exception of Trants Estate and Little Bay, no prehistoric sites have been properly excavated on Montserrat, and no sites have been systematically surveyed in the northern portion of the island; the area of interest for this project (Watters 1994; Peterson and Watters 1991, 1995). Archaeologists working in the Caribbean have long observed the presence of distinct prehistoric island cultures, and the participation of these groups in complex networks of inter-island communication and exchange (Honychurch 1986; Rouse 1992). This remains an underdeveloped area of archaeological knowledge in relation to Montserrat.
Today the majority of Montserrat’s current population is descended from Irish and African indentured or enslaved laborers, who were brought to the island beginning in the 16th century to work on the dozens of sugar, cotton, and other plantations that were once the backbone of the island economy (see Fergus 1994; Wheeler 1988). Several of these plantations locations are known based upon data from historic maps, ethnographic interviews, and limited archaeological survey and excavation (Beaudry et al. 2007; Howson 1995; Pulsipher and Goodwin 1982, 1999, 2001; Pulsipher 1977; Miles and Munby 2006). Unfortunately, with the exception of recent and ongoing excavations at the Carr Estate in Little Bay (Beaudry and Pulsipher 2007), the vast majority of previous archaeological work, on historic and prehistoric sites, occurred in areas now inside of the exclusion zone. The most significant historical archaeological site on the island was Galways Plantation, which Lydia Pulsipher and Conrad (Mac) Goodwin researched extensively for 13 years (1999, 2001; Goodwin 1982, 1987; Pulsipher 1992, 1991, 1983, 1982). Like many other significant archaeological sites on Montserrat, Galways was completely destroyed by the volcanic activity; a major eruption in 1998 triggered a lahar, which pushed the remains of the entire plantation into the ocean.