Friday, April 07, 2006
Under the supervision of Ken Wild and with the help of interns, the Cultural Resources of the Virgin Islands National Park are in good shape. However, it wasn’t always the case. One of the truly disturbing thoughts to those of us involved in archaeology in the park is thinking about all the artifacts that have walked off this island in the past 300 years and are in private collections. The story of the Virgin Islands early history is built upon archaeological evidence, and when artifacts are removed by untrained individuals, entire persons, plots and events go with them.
One important person in the story of St. John’s archaeological past is Mrs. Julia Condit. Mrs. Condit was the wife of Caneel’s Resident Architect, Mr. Thomas Condit. Together, they spent more than eight years on St. John and Julia spent an extraordinary amount of time piecing together the archaeology of the island. The Daily News from Friday, May 8, 1964 wrote that, “as an amateur archaeologist, Julia has worked with zeal and insight which have won ungrudging praise from the professional archaeologist.’ Thanks to her, valuable artifacts were saved from the dirt pile and oblivion during bulldozing operations at Caneel and Cinnamon Bay. Julia meticulously collected and restored hundreds of widely scattered pottery fragments which were put on display at the NPS Museum. Fortunately, the park has much of her collection intact today.
Ken Wild learned of Mrs. Condit about two years ago from Inga Hiilivirta from Islandia Real Estate on St. John. Inga knew the Condit’s in the 1960’s and gave Ken Julia’s number. Julia sent Ken some photographs and articles about her work. Ken learned that Julia had been asked by NPS employees to keep some of the artifacts because the park did not have the ability to curate the objects at that time. So Julia had been keeping them safe with her for fifty years!
About two month ago, Susanna began working as a contract curator for the NPS and called Julia again. Julia agreed to send the artifacts back to the park and this week they arrived. What a wonderful collection! Inside the boxes were celts and stone tools, pottery sherds, shell ornaments and effigy faces which probably date between 1000-1450AD. When these artifacts are catalogued and placed in the collection, along with the information provided by Mrs. Condit, a new chapter in the story of prehistoric St. John will emerge.
Today, the Virgin Islands National Park is seeking the return of artifacts which have been removed from the Park. If you have any information regarding the removal of artifacts, please contact the park. Text and photos by Susanna Pershern