Thursday, April 26, 2007

Earth Day Celebrations

Hello, everyone. It is a rainy morning here on St. John (what a relief!). Luckily, though, it did not rain when we had our Earth Day celebration last Friday. The surrounding schools took off the morning to come and see presentations by various local groups, such as the Animal Care Center, Dr. Ray, a botanist from UVI, and of course, the Virgin Islands Cultural Resources Management Team. Susanna and I set up two units for the students to “excavate.” We placed artifacts in the sand and instructed the students in the best way to excavate like an archaeologist. The students learned not to excavate without an archeologist present, and received a certificate for a job well done. I really think they left having enjoyed themselves, and hopefully they learned a little about archaeology as well. (We have no pictures this week because we were working our station at Earth Day, but check out the coverage in local papers.)
In addition to Earth Day, Susanna and I have been working on the collections quite a bit. Inventory is due, and we are attacking any problems that arise in the process. Ken has been writing papers for publication about St. John archeology/history as well as completing the park's annual report to Congress on archeological activities. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done, which brings me to my next point. The Cultural Resources Management Team is looking for more interns this month. Live in the Caribbean, work for the National Park Service…who wouldn’t want this job? All those interested should contact Ken Wild, the Park archeologist, at You better hurry, though because when college classes let out we will have plenty of help. We use interns from many different backgrounds, i.e. archeology, history, conservation, curation and architecture. We also have interns from art and engineering for virtual modeling of ruins. We hope to see you on St. John soon!

P.S. Hi Cliff. Unfortunately, we don't disclose locations of plantations we find until a complete survey is done in order to protect their archeological integrity. But thanks for the question!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Found: An 18th century plantation!

Found: An 18th century plantation!
We, the Virgin Islands Cultural Resources Management Team, have exciting news. Just last Friday, Ken Wild and I (Amber Davis) found a plantation that we have been searching for, for some time. The plantation is recorded on the Oxholm map of 1780 and it was discovered by Barbara Johnson in 1981, but the Park Service has never assessed this great site. Well, after one grueling day on Thursday chopping catch-and-keep and cutting down cacti (with no plantation in site), Ken and I re-grouped and set off with new target coordinates on Friday. And lo and behold, we found it! The plantation consists of three structures—the main residence, the enslaved quarters, and the warehouse (picture #1).
These structures would have had wooden walls and roofs; however, all that remains now are the low-lying stone and mortar walls that braced the wooden upper half. The stone walls are sloped outward to prevent rain from pouring into the structure (picture #2).
Ken and I picked up and GPS’ed to within 20 centimeters some ceramic fragments that can date the occupation of the plantation, notably black lead-glazed course earthenware (1700-1770), white salt-glazed stoneware (1720-1770), English slipware (1675-1770), and delftware (1630-1790) (clockwise from bottom left in picture #3). Given the absence of pearlware, which is found everywhere by 1780, Ken conjectures that the plantation was abandoned by the time Oxholm drew his map. All in all, it was a great day, and Ken and I treated ourselves to a cheeseburger at Skinny Legs afterwards:)

Earlier on in the week, students from the Good Hope private school on St. Croix paid the Cinnamon Bay lab a visit. Ken gave a lecture on the extensive history of St. John and the Virgin Islands, and then the students were shown several steps of the archaeological data recovery process. First, ideally the excavator leaves artifacts that he or she finds in the ground, or “in situ,” so that the artifact’s location can be recorded and its context is retained. If the artifacts are not carefully excavated, then they are found in the next step, where dirt is screened twice with differently sized mesh screens (picture #4).

The artifacts are then washed, identified and analyzed, and catalogued. The students asked Ken some questions about the Taino and seemed interested in the demonstration about archaeological excavation. I think they learned more about archaeology and the Virgin Islands than they had previously known.
Later on this week, Ken and I will be searching for another plantation so stay tuned. I hope everyone’s Easter was happy, and thanks for reading!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Blog 3-30-07
Hello readers,
This is your friendly, neighborhood Cultural Resources Management Team tuning in from the Virgin Islands National Park. Today, we visited Hassel Island again, this time with two historic site stabilization experts from San Juan named Colon and Jose (see picture #1). They came to assess the Creque Marine Railway winch house and boy, do we have our work cut out for us! Our first concern is to stabilize the structure and prevent further degradation (or its collapse!) before historic reconstruction can begin. One simple step that can drastically improve the structure’s solidity is to recreate the wooden beams that supported the second story. This will connect the walls together as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries and ideally prevent any collapses from occurring. From there, new and some old materials such as brick and mortar will be needed to patch the walls themselves, and we must remove the vegetation and trash to provide a clear path to the winch house before the work can proceed. The second phase of this project would be a new roof for further stabilization of the structure as well as to help preserve the artifacts housed within, such as the boilers and the flywheel. Colon and Jose will draw up a budget for both the stabilization and historic reconstruction phases of this project and hopefully we will have their help in seeing the project through its completion.

We also brought Professor of History Nicholas Jensen from the University of Copenhagen, Professor of Archaeology Pia Bennike, and her three graduate students on our trip to Hassel Island (see picture #1). While Colon and Jose studied the structure, Ken led us over to the western shore of the island to search for the leprosarium in use in the 1800’s (ceramic fragments identified on the surface attest to this date). A leprosarium is a quarantined hospital for people afflicted with leprosy. In the yellow fever outbreak of 1867, the hospital was also used to house yellow fever victims. Professor Pia is conducting an excavation of a cemetery on St. Croix and was interested in the cemeteries associated with this historic site. Unfortunately, we did not find any cemeteries in our search. Ken believes the dead were most likely buried over on the mainland in Charlotte Amalie. We did, however find a cistern (see picture #2) associated with a low lying stone wall. Ken believes this is most likely the remnants of the front wall of the hospital, and that the rest of the structure would have been made of wood. Also, when on our trek, we found a lot of shell refuse indicative of a large Taino site. Further investigations into this area of Hassel Island encompassing both the prehistoric site and the leprosarium would no doubt prove to be very interesting and informative.

The Team is planning some excursions into the bush next week to find more lost plantations, so stay tuned and we’ll be back:)