JNHT: Mining would threaten archaeological assets in Cockpit Country
An archaeological impact assessment conducted by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) has painted a gloomy picture for historical assets within the proposed Special Mining Lease (SML) 173, if the Government allows Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II to mine 8,335 hectares of land in the Cockpit Country.
The Noranda-commissioned study, which was conducted by the JNHT’s Archaeology Division, found that even though the area, which spans the parishes of St Ann and Trelawny, falls immediately outside the eastern delimitation of the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA), it could hamper Jamaica’s quest to have the CCPA placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
According to the JNHT, SML 173, which includes communities such as Alps, Barnstaple Mountain, Belmont, Broadleaf, Bryan Castle, Hyde Hall Mountain, Covey Mountain, Endeavour and Gibraltar and Sawyers, constitutes the largest and best preserved ensemble of indigenous architecture in the island.
Noting that one of the fundamental objectives of World Heritage inscription is to improve the quality of life of people who live within and around a designated area “who may be the owners of the cultural heritage deemed to possess outstanding universal value (OUV)”, the JNHT said the proposed bauxite mining of the area would present challenges in establishing an appropriate buffer zone.
“Open-pit bauxite mining has the potential to inflict direct and indirect adverse impact on communities in the target areas. Tangible assets, both cultural and natural, may be damaged during the pre-mining and mining phases,” the JNHT said.
The JNHT presented an expansive list of above-ground heritage assets discovered in the area during the 10-day study undertaken last year, but said that it was likely that there was more beneath the surface in addition to others that could have possibly been missed.
Pointing to the rich archaeological, historical, architectural and ethnographical heritage resources in the area, the JNHT said it is home to a large number of Anglo-Jamaican sites such as sugar and coffee states, pens, plantation houses, churches, forts and batteries, and lime kilns. A plethora of Afro-Jamaican sites, including enslaved settlements and free villages are also in the area, in addition to vernacular houses, local craft industries and heritage trails.
The JNHT said the area has extremely important archaeological research value, which needs safeguarding, adding that “the material remains of past generations often are the only surviving records that link the past to the present”.
The heritage trust also said that mining may disrupt the authentically sedentary way of life in the deep rural, historically agrarian communities in the area, and negatively impact “the character of their settlement, handed down by generations”.
Changes to their original community layout, location and traditional farming practice, exposing the communities to incursion and adverse behavioural influences that result in increased crime and violence, were among the potential impacts which the JNHT said may be negative, major, long-term and irreversible.
Nevertheless, the JNHT proposed several mitigation measures to address potentially negative cumulative impacts, including grouping communities and insular archaeological sites into three clusters, placing boundary delimitations around them and having them designated protected national heritage sites.
In the meantime, Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry has indicated her office’s willingness to represent both the Cockpit Country communities and the Puerto Bueno Mountain stakeholders in any legal proceedings.