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stepping stones of maritime history


Precolonial period
As early as 4500 bp, the ABC islands were exploited by fishers and gatherers from the Venezuelan or maybe even Colombian littoral, who visited the islands for their rich shellfish (i.e. Lobatus gigas ) beds. They established temporary campsites on Aruba's Spaans Lagoen as early as 1000 BC. Spaans Lagoen was a beneficial inland bay for habitation and exploitation of shellfish, fish, sea turtles and their eggs. These indigenous individuals lived semi-nomadic lifestyles in small clusters and stayed relatively close to the coastlines and inland bays [1] [2] [3].

Colonial period 
Spaans Lagoen was utilized by the indigenous individuals up until the Historic period. Around the time the first Dutch men visited the island in 1636, a battle took place between the indigenous individuals living on the island and French raiders took place which led to the indigenous fleeing into a cave, where they were subsequently killed by smoke. However, this was never historically confirmed [4] [5] [6] [7]. The battle took place in what is now known as Rooi Frances [8].

Spaans Lagoen became prominent when gold was found on the island in 1824 leading to two gold harvesting periods and two gold smelters being built on the island, one of which was situated at Balashi next to Spaans Lagoen. Gold mining occurred between 1824 – 1832 and again from 1868 – 1915/1916 [9]. The two gold smelters built during the second gold period were situated at Bushiribana and Balashi. The first gold was discovered in 1824 and was harvested until 1832 when the gold became scarce and could no longer be found [9]. However, more gold was present on the island, which led to the extraction of gold starting up again after 1854 in the hills on the northside of the island located at Bushiribana. The concessionaire F. Isola successfully extracted gold from 1868 – 1872 in a profitable manner. However, the mines were temporarily closed until 1878 and was successful at this location until 1895. Between 1895 – 1899, it was decided to build another gold smelter situated at the south coast of the island. In 1899, the Aruba Goldmining Company built a smelter at Balashi located at the southern end of Frenchman’s pass, and ran from 1899 – 1926 [9] [10]. This gold smelter was built at this location as it was situated next to Spaans Lagoen, creating an easy connection with the sea. After the gold smelter at Balashi was opened, further expansion and gold mines were dug and gold were extracted throughout the entire island. However, the increase in coast forced the company to sell the gold smelter to the Aruba Gold Company in 1908. This ownership did not last long as operations ceased at the beginning of World War I when the employees did not feel that the work they were putting in was being sufficiently rewarded, in addition to the processing aids could no longer be obtained [9].

In the beginning of the 20th century, the water company of Aruba Water en Energie Bedrijf Aruba (WEB), built a bridge at Spaans Lagoen in order to transport fresh water for the gold extraction process. WEB was used during this period to desalinate the seawater in Spaans Lagoen. The WEB water factory situated at Balashi functioned up until 1959 [11] [12] [13].


Spaans Lagoen is Aruba’s longest inland bay, spanning 1.5 kilometers inwards and has a width of 100 – 150 meters, at its widest point. The environment consist of dense vegetation and a diverse flora and fauna with fresh water [12].


A total of seven Archaic period sites were found and documented along the western banks of the lagoon. Several shell middens were identified containing a variety of shellfish. In addition, ceramics human remains, and artefacts made of shells and stones were also located and documented at Spaans Lagoen [3].

In 2021, surveys and dive inspections were conducted at Spaans Lagoen where a total of 12 sites containing archaeological artefacts were documented. The archaeological artefacts were namely constructing materials, fishing traps, shipwrecks, floating platforms, anchors, industrial materials, cannons, petrified wood, and a large abundance of bottles. All the archaeological materials found during this survey were left in situ [13].

In 1980, Spaans Lagoen became a protected region as it is an important region where birds can breed and collect food, a variety of marine organisms call this region home, and it functions as mangrove swamps. In 2019, Spaans Lagoen became a protected marine area [13].

[1]. Boerstra, E. H. J. (1982). De Precolombiaanse Bewoners van Aruba, Curacou en Bonaire. De Walburg Pers.
[2]. Dijkhoff, R. A. C. F., Linville, M. S. (2004). Aruba, “Island of shells”. In R. A. C. F. Dijkhoff and M. Linville (Eds), The Archaeology of Aruba: The marine shell heritage (pp. 1-8). The Archaeological Museum of Aruba.
[3]. Kelly, H. Hofman, C. L. (2019). The Archaic Age of Aruba: New evidence on the first migrations to the island. In C. L. Hofman and A. T. Antczak (Eds), Early settlers of the insular Caribbean. Dearchaizing the Archaic (pp. 147-162). Sidestone Press.
[4]. Koolwijk, A. J. van (1982). De Indianen Caraiben van het Eiland Aruba (West Indie). Tijdschrift van het (Nederlandsch) Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 6. 
[5]. Bosch, G. B. (1985). Reizen in West-Indie; deel I en II (1829 – 1836). S. Emmerling.
[6]. Wernet-Paskel, L. (1992). Ons Eilandje Aruba. De Walburg Pers. 
[7]. Dijkhoff, R. A. C. F. (1997). Tanki Flip/Henriquez: An Early Urumaco site in Aruba [Published master thesis]. Leiden University. 
[8]. Hartog, J. (1953). Aruba zoals het was, zoals het werd. De Wit.
[9]. Alofs, L., Merkies, L. (2001). Ken ta Arubiano? Sociale integratie en natievorming op Aruba, 1924- 2001. VAD/De Wit Stores.
[10]. Arubiana: 
[11]. Marchena, F. A., Halman, J. I. M. (2018). Aruba’s desalination’s knowledge and experience: conquering the sea toward desalination’s sustainability. 
[12]. Dijkhoff, R. A. C. F. (2021). Onderwater Cultureel Erfgoed Sites Aruba. Werkdocument MANA in het kader van ratificeren door Koninkrijk der Nederlandsen van UNESCO Conventie 2001: Bescherming van Onderwater Cultureel Erfgoed, Aruba. Manuscript available at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, Oranjestad, Aruba.
[13]. Symister, C. M. A., Dijkhoff, R. A. C. F. (2022). Spaans Lagoen and Commandeursbaai. An archaeological field evaluation on Maritime Heritage of Aruba [Published report]. Symister Maritime Archaeological Research.


  • Edited by Basil A. Reid (2018).
    The Archaeology of Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean Farmers (6000 BC – AD 1500).

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