Plantation Soilscapes: Initial and Cumulative Impacts of Colonial Agriculture in Antigua, West Indies

E. Christian Wells, Suzanna M. Pratt, Georgia L. Fox, Peter E. Siegel, Nicholas P. Dunning, A. Reginald Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This paper examines physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils and sediments from landforms in eastern Antigua, West Indies, to better understand the long-term consequences of colonial plantation agriculture for soil health. Plantation farming played a central role in the history of Caribbean societies, economies, and environments since the seventeenth century. In Antigua, the entire island was variably dedicated to agricultural pursuits (mostly sugarcane monoculture) from the mid-1600s until independence from the United Kingdom in 1981, when most commercial cultivation ceased. Today’s soilscapes are highly degraded, although it is unknown what the role of the island’s plantation legacy has played in this process. Our research combines geoarchaeological survey and sampling, sediment core analysis, and historical archival research to model the initial and cumulative impacts of the plantation industry on the island. We focus on the region surrounding Betty’s Hope, the island’s first large-scale sugarcane plantation in operation from 1674 to 1944. We find that current erosion and degradation issues experienced by today’s farmers are not attributable to intensive plantation farming alone, but rather are part of a complex mosaic of human-environmental interactions that include abandonment of engineered landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-35
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2018


  • Caribbean
  • Landscape change
  • environmental impacts
  • historical archaeology
  • soil analysis
  • sugar plantations


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