skip to content

Department of Archaeology



Historical archaeologist, cultural heritage consultant, and public educator. Following my Research Masters in Archaeology at Leiden University in 2009, I obtained a Bachelor of Education (2011) to teach high school on the island of Saba, Dutch Caribbean as a means to start a local archaeological education program for both youth and adult residents. I co-founded the Saba Archaeology Center (SABARC) on Saba in 2012 and with government and NGO support, it expanded to include an archaeology office, lab, and museum.  In 2012 I joined the European Transatlantic Slave Trade (EUROTAST) research group as a Marie Sklodowska-Curie early stage researcher for my PhD, hosted by Leiden University. I obtained my PhD in 2017 and have been consulting in heritage management and archaeology across the Netherlands and north-eastern Caribbean.

As a Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at the University of Cambridge, I am the experienced researcher for "No dollar too dark: free trade, piracy, privateering and illegal slave trading in the northeast Caribbean, early 19th century’".


My academic research focuses thematically upon maritime archaeology and historical archaeology of the Caribbean, and my interests include slavery, poverty, power, and ideology, and how these are implicated in peoples’ conceptions of landscapes and material culture. 

My postdoctoral research project, “No Dollar Too Dark”, integrates maritime archaeology, history, geophysical survey and anthropology to investigate illicit trade between the Caribbean islands St. Eustatius, Saba, St. Thomas, St. Bartholomew and St. Maarten from 1816 to c.1840 with the aim of understanding why and how these islands were drawn into an illicit trade network, what archaeological evidence remains of these activities and why this is relevant to current ‘theories of piracy’ and modern illicit trade in the region.

Key Publications

Key publications: 

I've published as single author and co-author in several major archaeological journals in my field such as Antiquity, Archaeometry, Historical Archaeology, the New West Indian Guide, and the International Journal of Historical Archaeology.
Key publications include:

Espersen, Ryan
2019 - Fifty shades of trade: St. Thomas during the early 19th century. New West Indian Guide 93:41-68. 

2018 - From Hell’s Gate to the Promised Land: Perspectives of poverty on Saba, Dutch Caribbean, 1780 to mid-20th century. Historical Archaeology 53(2):773-797. 

2013 - Water use at Palmetto Point and Middle Island, Saba, Dutch Caribbean: A modelled approach towards settlement viability. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17(4):806-827. 

Espersen, Ryan & Haviser, Jay.
2019 - Cist Graves on Saba, Dutch Caribbean: A unique example in the colonial Americas. Antiquity 93(371): 1322-1338.

Fricke, Felicia; Laffoon, Jason; & Espersen, Ryan.
2021 - Unforgotten: The osteobiography of an enslaved woman and child from 18th century Saba. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 36(102838).         

Laffoon, Jason; Espersen, Ryan; and Mickleburgh, Hayley.
2018 - Life history of an enslaved African: Multiple isotope evidence for forced childhood migration from Africa to the Caribbean and associated dietary change. Archaeometry 60(2):350-365.  (Awarded “One of Most Download Papers for 2018” in Archaeometry).

Job Titles

Marie Sklodowska-Curie European Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

General Info

Not available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Material Culture
Computational and Quantitative Archaeology
Heritage Management
Cultural Heritage

Contact Details

re391 [a]
McDonald Institute


Person keywords: 
Maritime archaeology
Caribbean history
Historical archaeology
Illicit trade
Network analysis
Heritage Studies
Environment, Landscapes and Settlement
Material Culture
Geographical areas: 
Periods of interest: