Friday, October 20, 2006

Gearing up

Blog 10-20-06
The doors to the Cinnamon Bay Archaeological Lab were thrown open for the first time this season. Ken, Susanna, and I have started to unpack the exhibits to get the lab ready for visitors, and two of the historic bottles found last week have been cleaned for display. One has been identified as a Gordon’s gin bottle (with a funky hog’s head design on the front), but we’ll have to do some homework to ascertain its age. It can’t be older than 1918 because of its color, which tells us it is not associated with the shipwreck.
Today, we journeyed out to Hassel Island with two rangers to familiarize them with the island’s extensive cultural resources (so that they can protect them). Almost from the beginning of European expansion into the New World Hassel Island has been associated with the early Spanish, pirates and English privateers. The island becomes even more important as commerce expands and serves as the midway stopover for ships traveling from Europe, New England, to South America and the Pacific, making it very significant in the realm of maritime history. The oldest marine railway—Creque Marine Railway—is located on Hassel, as well as the only Napoleonic fortifications on American soil. The long-term plans for the island are to preserve the historic structures, in concert with archaeological and historical oversight. I think the public would love to see and learn about this fascinating island. Pictured above are two partially submerged anchors at the north shore of the island.

Friday, October 13, 2006

New Intern!

Hello everyone! My name is Amber Davis and I am the VINP Cultural Resource Team’s newest intern. I moved down here from New Hampshire and just recently received a B.A. in Chemistry from Bowdoin College with a minor in Anthropology. Naturally, I am interested in archaeochemistry, or chemistry as it is applied to archaeology, and it sounds like I will be able to help with a lot of projects here. From soil testing to the identification of pottery residues, I only hope that our efforts here can contribute additional knowledge about the pre-Columbian residents of St. John. Speaking of, I have been reading a lot about the Taino—the Caribbean natives who greeted Columbus—and what I have read has been fascinating. Did you know that bats symbolized their dead ancestors’ spirits and that the English words “hammock,” “canoe,” “tobacco,” and “barbecue” originate from the Taino language? Sweet.
In the past two weeks (of which I am here only on Thursdays and Fridays), the team has been exploring a new shipwreck (the anchor is pictured in a previous blog). Historic bottles from ~1850’s were found and a few metal objects were detected, but not excavated. These objects are teasers, however, because we still have yet to determine why the ship wrecked. Many projects are planned for this year and I look forward to sharing the results with you as the work progresses down here on St. John. Until next week:)

Unidentified Metal Artifact among Shipwreck Scatter

Friday, October 06, 2006

Maho Bay

It is late Friday, and we still have much to do, including the Museum Annual Checklist and rearranging in the Bally Building to create a space for a new map cabinet, however, we wanted to post the press release about the recent developments regarding Maho Bay. In short, the Virgin Islands National Park will eventually recieve a large track of land thanks to the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) hard work towards preserving this large track of land for the public. One aspect of our mission is to know what is in the park, and before any land transfer this has to be determined. Ken is already thinking about the survey methods and documenation that will have to happen to to help TPL and NPS to properly manage and protect the cultural resources on the land. On Monday, Ken and Susanna rode out to Maho to take a quick look at the new aquisition, including a unique and perplexing ruin, that Susanna nicknamed the "bus stop" due to it's proximity to the road. Please read the press release for more informaiton.

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, 9/5/2006 - The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, today announced it has signed a contract to buy and preserve a 415-acre property in the heart of St. John that ultimately will become part of Virgin Islands National Park. It would be the biggest preservation project on St. John since the National Park was created in 1956.

The property, known as Estate Maho Bay, will be added to the park when federal funds become available, said Greg Chelius, director of TPL's program in Florida and the Caribbean.

"The national park on St. John is one of the world's great treasures," said Chelius. "We are very excited to be part of the effort to preserve its incredible natural beauty."

"TPL has been working on preserving Maho Bay for more than five years and while there have been a lot of challenges, it looks like we're finally on the road," Chelius continued. "We have a lot of hurdles to go, and we have to raise millions of dollars to make this happen, but we're confident that Estate Maho Bay will be protected."

The property has more than a quarter-mile of beachfront on pristine Maho Bay and rises to almost 1,000 feet in height. It also has significant ruins from the Danish colonial era, 1700-1860 and may have pre-Columbian cultural resources from the Taino Indian people, who inhabited St. John for 800 years before Christopher Columbus arrived. Just offshore are seagrass beds, green turtles and coral reef systems which are visited by thousands of people every year.

"Protection of this large property by TPL represents a very significant event for the V.I. National Park and for St. John. Development of this watershed would have had considerable impact on the natural and cultural resources of the park as well as residents and visitors to St. John," said Rafe Boulon, native St. Johnian and chief of resource management, V.I. National Park.

TPL has been working for years to acquire the property, which was owned by 11 heirs of Harvey Monroe Marsh. In fact, John Garrison, director of TPL's Southwest Florida Office and lead project manager on this acquisition, was interested in preserving this property before coming to TPL five years ago, when he was director of Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, a nonprofit on St. John dedicated to protecting the park.

Garrison said that the property has not been subdivided, so that each heir owns 1/11 interest in the entire parcel. Six heirs agreed to sell their interests to TPL. TPL had previously purchased one interest. The NPS owns three interests and the 11th is being retained by one of the heirs. By contract, the purchase price of the six interests is to remain confidential. The heirs are also each retaining a six-acre lot, with the ability to build up to two homes.

"Preservation of this property will be the culmination of many, many years of work," said Garrison. "A lot of credit goes to the heirs, who were willing to work with us and gave us a significant bargain on the sale, as well as to the Friends group for their continued support." A spokesperson for the Marsh family said, "Maho Bay has been in the family for over 100 years so it is important to the family to retain ancestral home sites and at the same time preserve the natural beauty of the estate for future generations to enjoy."

"The preservation of Estate Maho Bay, one of the most popular and cherished areas within VI National Park, is a significant accomplishment that will benefit the people of St. John and all those who will be able to visit and enjoy this magnificent area," said Joe Kessler, president of Friends of Virgin Islands National Park. "The Friends and all those who love VI National Park will be forever grateful to TPL for their persistence and imagination in making this a reality, to the donor for their generosity in financing the acquisition and to the heirs for their foresight and commitment to preserving Estate Maho Bay. We are pleased to have been a part of making this happen."

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 45 states. Working in Florida since 1975, TPL has protected more than 300 sites - over 200,000 acres at a market value of more than $500 million. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For more information please contact us at (850) 222-7911 or visit us on the web at

Monday, October 02, 2006


Bordeaux Mountain Overlook

Last week, Ken and Susanna had the pleasure of working with Ryan Polk, an Archivist from the Atlanta Regional Office. Ryan spent the entire week surveying and identifying the archives of the Virgin Islands National Park. It was a huge job as federal employees must maintian and save any documents related to their work at the park. Seeing as though the VINP is celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year, there is a half century of records filed away in offices, storage facilities, trailers and buildings. In addition, the tropical climate wreaks havoc on the old paper documents and sometimes it seemed as though Ryan's job could have been featured on Mike Rowe's "Dirtiest Jobs." Fortunatly, Ryan was able to have a short tour of the park along the Northshore and then back to town via Centerline Road, where we stopped and took a photograph of the famed Bordeaux Mountain Overlook.

Ryan Polk, Regional Archivist

Ryan and Susanna met with many individuals from the different divisions within the park. Here's Ryan working on the files at maintenance, which contain many maps and park plans, project reports, equipment data and all the documents that keep the Roads and Trails, Buildings, Signs, Water, Waste, Carpentry, Boat Mechanics and Vehicles running.

Ryan returned to Atlanta with all the information and will put together an Archive Plan for the park. Then it will be time to decide which files stay permanently with the park, which go to NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) and which files can be shredded. In addition to surveying all the archives, Susanna had the opportunity to see what was in other divisions.

(Genti Bay Ruins Eroding)
Finally, on Friday afternoon, Ken, Susanna and Ryan went out on the boat to collect some photographic documentation of the Genti Bay Ruins for ASMIS (Archeological Sites Management Information System) It was a great chance for Ryan to see the real thing - Reef Bay, Genti, Lameshure, Coral Reef Monument - all of which were mentioned in the archives. Along with finding intact ruins, they also found that some of the Genti Bay Ruins were eroding from the beach. In addition, evidence of a prehistoric settlement was documented. All in all, a very productive week.