“A Kind of Sacred Place”: The Rock-and-Roll Ruins of AIR Studios, Montserrat

  • John F. CherryEmail author
  • Krysta Ryzewski
  • Luke J. Pecoraro
Part of the Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology book series (CGHA, volume 35)


Between 1979 and 1989, AIR Studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat was a premier recording destination for a galaxy of top rock-and-roll stars. Forced to close by Hurricane Hugo, the property has suffered further damage from the ongoing eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano since 1995. Access is now restricted, but it has nonetheless become a virtual and actual place of tourist pilgrimage. In 2010 archaeologists from the Survey and Landscape Archaeology on Montserrat project (SLAM) surveyed the ruins of AIR Studios, carefully recording the spatial layout of the studio, documenting remnant material culture abandoned at the time of the studio’s closure, and excavating ash-covered pavement slabs inscribed by musicians during the studio’s heyday. Further research revealed that certain elements of the studios had been systematically stripped from the premises after 1989 and, in some cases, have since been reincorporated into other buildings across the island.

As a site of contemporary archaeology, AIR Studios raises several theoretical considerations about the maintenance of ruins, experiences of a doomed place, and the movement and displacement of material objects. Why, for example, is there such interest in maintaining the orderly appearance of a structure that is rapidly succumbing to tropical decay and will probably soon be overwhelmed by volcanic ash flows? Is a trip to AIR Studios so evocative precisely because of its somewhat dangerous location and because a visit involves trespassing? Understanding this place requires consideration of the nostalgic sentiments and collective memories that draw people from around the world directly to AIR Studios. In this chapter, we discuss these and other issues, including the site’s prospects as a heritage site, given its imminent demise.


Exclusion Zone Steel Wheel Hills Volcano Archaeological Significance Rolling Stone 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We wish to thank the Montserrat National Trust for their continued support, the SLAM and Little Bay Archaeology Project field crews who participated in the AIR Studios survey, and, most of all, Douglas C. Anderson and Sir George Martin for arranging and granting us access to AIR Studios. We hope that our experience will contribute, in some small measure, to the preservation of the Studio’s important place in Montserrat’s cultural and archaeological heritage. We are grateful to Christina Hodge for inviting us to participate in the CHAT 2011 session in which the first version of this paper was presented and to Mary Beaudry and Travis Parno for including us in the subsequent publication and for the most helpful comments of our two referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • John F. Cherry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Krysta Ryzewski
    • 2
  • Luke J. Pecoraro
    • 3
  1. 1.Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient WorldBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA
  3. 3.Department of ArchaeologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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