During the 2009 season, a short campaign was launched at Aapravasi Ghat, the immigration depot where hundreds of thousands of indentured labourers, mainly from India, reached the island in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Due to environmental conditions such as an extremely dry, hard ground surface, a geophysical survey proved unsuccessful. Several walls were recorded using photogrammetry.
From November 2010 to January 2011, a large-scale excavation was carried out in the Aapravasi Ghat warehouse, formerly used as a sugar store. In this building, the Beekrumsingh Ramlallah Interpretation Center will be set up and is due to be completed on the 2nd of November 2011. This will be a museum and interpretation center for indentured labour in general and the Aapravasi Ghat immigration depot in particular. In order to get a better understanding of the area in addition to historical data, an archaeological excavation was scheduled and Diego Calaon and Ruud Stelten were asked to direct the works. They were assisted by eight students from the University of Mauritius and several AGTF workers.
Over the course of ten weeks, about one third of the area inside the warehouse was excavated. A variety of features were discovered, which can be divided into three main periods:
- The most recent complex of archaeological features was the warehouse used for sugar storage, from 1864 to the 1970s. The original brick floor was discovered, in addition to various other indicators of sugar storage, such as patches of burnt sugar. On top of the brick floor, large basalt stones were placed in order to raise the floor and put concrete on top during latter half of the twentieth century.
- Underneath the most recent level, the remains of a marine railway were discovered. This structure, in use from c. 1845 to 1856, was used to repair ships and was a cheap alternative to dry docking. The marine railway, referred to in historical sources as Port Slip, consisted of a basalt pavement on which rails would have rested. On these rails a cart would run down into the water. A ship would be positioned over the cart, and heaved up using a chain attached to the cart on one side and to a steam- or animal powered winch on the other. On both sides of the railway scaffolding was constructed in order to make repairs to the higher parts of the hull. Historical documents indicate that this facility was probably mainly used for dredging vessels and ships belonging to the port authority. Part of the basalt pavement was found to be in place, and many postholes from the scaffolding were found as well. In addition, many pieces of slate, covered in pitch, were recovered, and a large variety of c. 5000 artifacts provided a good overview of the material culture used in this area in the mid-nineteenth century. Particularly prominent in the artifact assemblage were medical bottles, most likely used at the nearby hospital and dumped here during the period when the railway was not in use from 1856 to 1864.
- The oldest features, dating from c. 1775 to the early 1840s, are part of an old dock. Remains include a large rectangular wall with steps inside. The marine railway was later built inside these walls after the dock was filled. A small area inside the dock was excavated, and artifacts dating from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth were recovered. Among these were various types of ceramics and a large cannonball.
Three sections of the excavation, one from each period, will be displayed in the Interpretation Center.