Digging it

  • Living history: Xander Cook, front left, at the Smith’s Island dig in 2015; and with Brent Fortenberry at the Verdmont Museum dig, below
  • Xander Cook, centre, with Shihan Collins Smith and Sensei Eugene O’Connor at Bermuda Aikikai - Xander has practiced Aikido since 2004, which is part of the draw to Japan (Photgraph supplied)
  • Xander with Brent Fortenberry in the Verdmont Midden
  • Xander with Rev Ant Pettit - Bermuda Boys Brigade (Photograph supplied)

Have you ever noticed you can find golf balls almost anywhere in Bermuda? Xander Cook has unearthed his fair share.

The 18-year-old is taking his love of digging to Wales. He will study archaeology at Cardiff University in September after receiving a $1,500 scholarship from the Learning Disability Association of Bermuda.

It is the most recent in a long line of support he has received over the years. He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as a young child; tutors in science, mathematics and essay writing got him through his GCSEs.

“[It] would distract me from my [school]work, but it’s not as bad as [attention deficit] hyperactivity [disorder] where most people can’t sit still for periods of time,” he said.

One thing held his focus.

“I knew I was interested in digging. When I was a kid I would play around with rocks, dig those up.”

At first his love of dinosaurs swayed him towards palaeontology, but a dig at Verdmont Museum in 2013 changed his mind.

“It was only for the day, but it really grabbed me,” he said.

“I got a bit spoilt because we were digging what’s called the midden, which is the trash pit.

“That’s where they threw all their waste — old china, anything broken — so we kept finding artefact after artefact after artefact.

“It really piqued my interest.”

The following summer he volunteered with a field team on Smith’s Island with Michael Jarvis of the University of Rochester.

“We’re trying to find one of the first houses on Bermuda. It was really the first mansion because it was quite large. It’s on one of the earliest maps of Bermuda — there’s a little house drawn on Smith’s Island and that’s what we’re trying to find,” he explained.

“We’ve found what seems to be a couple of postholes, so hopefully this is the start of the mansion.”

He joined another dig in Ely’s Harbour for two weeks in April, “where we took measurements of a shipwreck”.

He then took on the role of team runner with Land Rover BAR.

“Whatever they needed, I went and got it for them,” he said.

Next month he will again join the Smith’s Island dig, this time as a full-time field student.

“In previous years I would go on the dig maybe three or four days out of the six weeks that they were there, but this time I will be working on the island for the full six weeks,” he said.

His future professors told him he was coming in with more experience than most second-year students.

Mr Cook graduated from Warwick Academy in May last year and is spending the summer working at his former school.

He said winning the scholarship was “awesome”. He will use it towards tutoring, special sessions or school supplies.

“Anything that I might need to help me out,” he said. “From that, I’m hoping to study marine archaeology and come back here to work on the shipwrecks.”

The four-year degree programme includes a year abroad, which he hopes will lead him to China or Japan.

“Their dynasties are really intriguing for me. One thing that really draws me to China is the Terracotta Army. I know it’s already been dug up and explored but it would be cool to really see it and learn about it.”

Esran Phillips, 20, has also received a BDAB scholarship. Ms Phillips is studying early childhood education at Wheelock College in Boston.