Thursday, August 30, 2018
Archaeology and Cinnamon Bay
Just a few weeks before hurricane Irma hit a team of climatologists came and gave a presentation on what to expect from future super hurricanes. We took them to Cinnamon Bay and discussed what will be lost and what we had done to prepare for the inevitable.
Twenty-five years ago I along with fellow archaeologist Regina Leabo of the NPS excavated a small test unit at Cinnamon Bay. What we found was astonishing and completely unprecedented. The dirt at the beach edge had unbelievable preserved in near exact sequence, century atop century the last 500 years of prehistoric life here in the Virgin Islands. While we were there we saw how Hurricane Hugo had just recently demonstrated just how threatened this shoreline and site were by erosion.
So when the Friends asked in 1998 what was an urgent and critical need that they could help with; it was without question saving these pristine chapters of the Caribbean’s history. So began the park’s archaeology program. Over the next several years excavations continued nearly non-stop and though only a small portion of the site was dug what was saved was remarkable. We discovered Classic Taino culture was here with all its elaborate art. That the site was their version of a church where ceremonial offerings were made providing us an insight into the meaning of Caribbean petroglyphs, prehistoric life, and the extent of cultural interaction from Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to Antiqua, and along the shores of South America.
We also discovered that the little white house on the beach was one of the oldest standing structures in the Virgin Island’s dating back to the sixteen hundreds. All the while we knew time to share all this new knowledge about this historic place and ancient site was limited. So the Friends helped us create a working lab with archaeological exhibits. It was designed so that the artifacts could be removed quickly and we could continue to work and interpret these ancient sites before they would be lost forever.
Well the massive hurricanes came a little sooner than even the climatologists predicted and yes it would have been nice to have had a few more years to share these wonderful discovers on site. Nevertheless, the NPS mission was achieved, we had saved what we could and interpreted to our community and visitor as much of this treasured past and special place as was possible.
Having objects made by the people and cultures that came before us on display, provided us a timeline of physical proof of our islands rich past, inspiring a new appreciation for our island’s heritage in both an older and younger generation and a desire to preserve these treasure for all to enjoy. Now we have that chance to create a truly special place where we can insure our heritage is safe for all to see.
Friday, August 26, 2016
Hi! My name is Anne Finney and through my work with Virgin Islands National Park’s Cultural Resource Division, I have had the pleasure of learning about the history of St. John and sharing my knowledge of preservation with others. The work has also given me plenty of wonderful opportunities to interact with visitors, volunteers, dignitaries and my personal favorite, local students.
This past March, a group of very intelligent and energetic fourth graders from the Julius E. Sprauve elementary school made a lasting impression on one of those visiting dignitaries, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. The students met the Secretary outside of the archaeology lab at Cinnamon Bay and were given Nation Park Passes as part of the “Every Kid in a Park” program. The goal of the program, implemented by President Obama, is to get fourth graders and their families out exploring the nation’s public lands.
|Secretary Sally Jewell with Julius E. Sprauve Elementary School fourth graders at Cinnamon Bay © Ken Wild|
Virgin Islands National Park Ranger Laurel Brannick led the school group on a hike through the Cinnamon Bay ruins before heading to the beach. Park archaeologist Ken Wild took over from there and spoke to the students about the important role the National Park plays in studying and protecting the archaeological sites that dot the Island. Our trusty volunteers, Anne and Jeff held down the fort in the lab, while the archaeology interns set up field stations for the kids to get their hands dirty. At each station, we showed the students how to dig for artifacts and guided them through the process of unearthing and researching the past.
After excavating, sifting, washing and analyzing their newly discovered artifacts, the students had to very patiently wait for the Secretary, whose packed schedule was planned down to the minute. The importance of the occasion was not lost on the kids, who ran back to their archaeology field stations as the motorcade pulled up shouting, “She’s coming! Look busy!”. Secretary Jewell made her way to an artifact sifting station where she asked the local students what they were working on. One excited boy responded for everyone when he shouted, “Archaeology! Like archaeologist Ken Wild!”
The fourth graders were eager to speak to the Secretary, asking questions that they had each prepared and answering hers in turn. Jewell asked the students what types of artifacts they were finding and what they were made of. The kids responded with all of the correct answers and made an obvious impression on the Secretary. They pointed out burn marks on pottery sherds and explained that those particular pieces may have been part of a pot for cooking. They also pointed out burn marks on a tobacco pipe and reported that it was made of clay when asked by the Secretary. Through the artifacts that they were holding, the students shared their knowledge of the Cinnamon Bay site and the people who occupied the land there years ago.
The kids were eager to find out about Jewell as well, asking how she became Secretary of the Interior and if she knew President Obama. Jewell replied that she had just had a meeting with the President (who nominated her for her position) a few days earlier. The children asked Jewell about her family, how many employees she had in the Department of the Interior, and about her mountain climbing expedition in Antarctica. Secretary Jewell answered the question with humor and thoughtfulness, addressing each child individually. She also spoke to the kids about the importance of public service and handed out the park passes, which allow every fourth grader and their family free entry into all federal public land that charges a fee. Jewell later spoke about the program saying, “Using our public lands as living classrooms is one of the ways the Obama Administration is working to ensure all students – including USVI students – have the tools they need to understand the importance of the natural and cultural resources in their own backyard and beyond.”
Speaking at a reception hosted by the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, Jewell thanked the staff of the Park and the Friends and reported that her favorite part of her visit was her meeting the fourth graders led by Rangers Laurel and Ken at Cinnamon Bay!
Monday, June 06, 2016
My name is Kate Thomas
I have spent the last six weeks working as an archaeological intern at Cinnamon Bay. I received my B.S in Anthropology from the University of California, Riverside in 2013 and my M.A in Anthropology from East Carolina University in 2015. Prior to this internship, I had worked on a variety of sites, from a prehistoric mound in North Carolina, to a Colonial Tavern site, to Native American housing in a California Mission. At St. John, I got to work mainly with historic sites, but visit and interact with artifacts from both history and prehistory.
View out the Archaeology Laboratory Window
When I arrived in April, another archaeology intern, Austin, and two Danish History students, Kristine and Samantha, were here. The Danish research students were here as a part of an internship for their Master’s Program. When I was not in the lab processing artifacts, I was out in the field with Ken, Kristine, and Samantha searching for Krabbe’s plantation. Unfortunately, we did not find his plantation, but we found another belonging to Adrian Charles (circa 1721-31) on the last day of fieldwork. Their project also involved researching the L’Esperance and Seibin plantations, so I helped them out with ceramic identification and dating for those sites.
The other major aspects of my internship, and of many archaeologists’ careers, is public outreach and cultural resource protection. During my internship, I was able to participate in Earth Day in Cruz Bay. Myself and two other interns set up a fake archaeology site for kids to come and learn how to be archaeologists. Additionally, the location of the lab/museum on the beach at Cinnamon Bay provides myself and others the opportunity to engage with the public about protecting our cultural resources.
I also spent a day with Ken and Anne, our preservation intern, recording an historic site that may date to before the Danes planted a flag here in 1718. This site is very delicate and just walking on it can cause irreversible impacts so we choose to only record it and leave it as undisturbed as possible. Now that the park knows where it is the site can be monitored and protected from any threats. We also assessed, for restoration purposes, an historic house that has probably been lived in since the early 18th century. Another interesting aspect of this internship was the on the job practical application of historic preservation techniques, site assessment and monitoring in order to protect our cultural resources.
Anne and I out in the Field
This internship has been an amazing experience, providing me with a variety of experience to further my career as an archaeologist. I would like to thank Ken for his mentorship and the Friends of the Virgin Island National Park for their hard work in protecting the resources of St. John.