Friday, April 21, 2006

Earth Day

Crafts made out of recycled materials
Earth Day, 2006

We just returned from a successful Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park Earth Day Celebration, 2006 on the ball field in Cruz Bay. There were many booths for the schoolchildren to visit: recycling, organic gardening, recycled crafts and of course, the National Park Service. Our Resource Management Team staffed a table which gave an overview of how we protect the natural resources of the island, such as turtles and coral by using moorings, which prevent boats from anchoring in fragile coral and seagrass. Mick and Susanna had a mini-excavation for the children, complete with Taino potsherds and historic artifacts buried in tuperware boxes filled with sand. Armed with trowels and shovels, hundreds of kids got to experience a dig and learned the difference between historic and prehistoric artifacts. Exclamations of “I found something, I found something” rang out and as one adult participant said, “They’re getting bit by the bug.”
The event was a pleasant break from a week spent on the Archeological Sites Management Information System (ASMIS) and cataloging. For ASMIS, we updated the database with GPS points and photographs. Mick continued to catalog VIIS-227 which is field finds and prepared three reports on the Turtle Bay Shovel Tests, Cinnamon Bay Erosion and the Caves. Ken has been preparing presentations for the upcoming Society of American Archeologists(SAA) Conference in San Juan, PR next week, in addition to the UNESCO Rock Art Conference in Guadelupe the following week. Mick will also attend the SAA conference while Susanna works on collection management.

Monday, April 17, 2006

With Help from the Community

The first part of the week Mick was investigating the petroglyphs on St. Kitts for a brief vacation. Ken and Susanna visited Caneel with Chuck Pishko. Chuck had located an 18th century candelabra at the kitchen area of the historic mangers house. Since the artifact was in the open where it could be collected as a keepsake, he concealed it and marked where he had discovered it. We collected the GPS data and the artifact. Thank you Chuck. (photo: Chuck Pishko with candelabra at Caneel)

Much of this week was devoted to cataloging. However, the interns had a busy and exhausting day on Thursday. The government requires each park to document the existence of all archeological sites, most sites have to be visited, and their condition reassessed every five years. This year we must find seven sites that the park has never assessed. We visited three of the sites on Thursday:, Hope, Paquerau, and Bordeaux Plantations. Luckily, for us, we were able to enlist the help of Peter Burgess, a St. John resident and avid hiker who is familiar with the locations of all three plantations. Peter had been there several times and generously volunteered to take us to the plantations. Following an Old Danish road, he led us up and down Bordeaux Mountain to each plantation. At the plantations, we assessed the condition of each archeological site and buildings. We collected GPS points on the corners of each structure so we can put them accurately on our GIS map and enter them into our Archeological Sites Management Information System (ASMIS). We also took length and width measurements of the buildings. Susanna photographed the buildings with us working as further documentation in the event the park is audited. We accomplished a great deal thanks to Peter and his knowledge of the island.(photo: Peter and Mick at Hope Plantation; Threat of Vegetation to Ruins at Paqeurau)

On Friday, Ken and Susanna completed an underwater survey at Trunk Bay so the park can install two sand screws for a dingy tether (a place to tie your dingy offshore). The tether will allow a dingy a place to park when the shore swells are too high for a safe beach landing. This archeological survey work is an example of basic resource compliance. In other words making sure that when they build, install, repair, renovate, restore, stabilize, or demolish anything in the park we first make sure no cultural resource are going to be damaged and if so, then a new process of mitigation is followed. But that is another story as nothing was found Friday except abandoned masks and snorkels.

(Photo: Channel Marker Screw in Trunk Bay, Depth, 15ft; Coral in the vincinity of cultural resources, Trunk Bay, 25ft)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Returning Home

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

Monday, April 03, 2006

More Exploring

(On Cabrit Horn, St John)
We have taken some time off from our current dig at Cinnamon Bay to pursue a few other projects. Last week we took a trip to Cabrit Horn to try to find two ruins to assess their condition for our site files that we keep in a government database termed ASMIS. ASMIS stands for Archeological Sites Management Information Systems. We found the Mandal Plantation. We searched for the ruins of a hospital for a while but to no avail. We’ll try again with a little more time examining the aerial photographs to see if we can pinpoint any square structures in the area that might be this historic hospital.

Andrew Connor and Mick Wigal spent several days putting the finishing touches on the Turtle Point dig. We completed all the cataloging of the artifacts and created a computer map of our shovel test units. Unlike our hand drawn maps, we are drawing this one in 3-D. Ken wants to brush up on his techniques with the software while teaching us the advantages of using this technology. Completing these steps allows us to finish the report for the project.

Intern Andrew Connor returned home to Massachusetts this week. He was a great help to Virgin Islands National Park archeology during the three months he was here. Hopefully he learned a great deal while working here and will pursue archeology as a career after finishing a degree in Anthropology from Augsberg College in Minnesota.