Thursday, June 19, 2008

International Crew Reveals Hassel Island's Secrets

Hi All! This is Holly Norton, one of this summer’s archaeology interns. Currently I am an employee of NPS, helping to complete Cultural Resource projects. I am also a graduate student at Syracuse University, and am here to complete my dissertation research. The last two months have been a blur of activity and scholarly cooperation- through generous funding from Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, NPS Archaeologist Ken Wild was able to bring an international crew of students to the Park this year. Hailing from Denmark, Vibe Martens and Andreas Latif are graduate students in the Department of History at the University of Copenhagen. Prior to arriving on island, Vibe and Andreas spent months in the Danish National Archives pouring over historic documents concerning the earliest inhabitants of Hassel Island; after arriving on island, machetes in hand, the two Danes cut and hacked their way through the dense jungle looking for the stone foundations and artifact scatters of the same plantations they had discovered in the documents. Joining them was their colleague from the Archaeology Department at the University of Copenhagen, Casper Nielsen. Casper is an underwater archaeologist, and was invited to the Park by Ken and the Friends to research historic anchors and the ruins of an abandoned coal barge on Hassel Island, from when Careening Cove served as the repair and refueling station serving the Caribbean.

The presence of ship repair facilities, specifically as related to the American-Hamburg Line was the final enticement for the US government, who bought the Danish West Indies on the eve of World War I to strategically keep it out of the hands of the Germans, as well as have a port for their own use in the Caribbean. Historically, Hassel Island was not the quiet place that it is today, as you look out over the steeply sloping hillsides from Charlotte Amalie. There was ship careening, military fortifications, naval stations, plantations, trade- and a quarantine hospital. Mandy Barton, an M.A. archaeology student from the University of Tennessee began her thesis research on the Leproscarium and Quarantine Hospital, investigating what life was like for the patients who had yellow fever, small pox, leprosy and cholera who lived, and died, on Hassel. Among the medicinal bottles and ceramics, we have seen a glimpse of their private lives through personal items such as beads, doll parts, and marbles. We’re all waiting with baited breath to learn what the artifacts tell Mandy.

Helping us with all this work was Eric Vane, an undergraduate student in anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin. In the United States archaeology is one of the four subfields of anthropology, the others being cultural anthropology, linguistics and physical/biological anthropology. Eric joined us to learn the discipline in the field, and quickly took to both the physical labor and intellectual thought provoked by such study.

For a week in June we were further joined by a team from National Park Service Headquarters, in Atlanta, GA, David, Bethany, Cynthia, Josh and Beth (yes- we had two of them!) Their primary focus was on cultural landscapes and historic architecture, and were visiting the Virgin Islands National Park to assess and record the condition of our historic architectural remains on both St. John and Hassel Island. While they were here I also gained valuable experience in conducting these LCS surveys myself, and will be applying that information to several of our sites on St. John.

Although we often scattered across Hassel Island during the day, conducting our various research projects, we all came together in the evenings, discussing and debating what we had found and what it might mean. Although the research itself has been wonderful, the most valuable experience we gained from this program developed by the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park and the National Park Service is the scholarly cooperation that developed between this summer’s team. The mix of graduate and undergraduate students, from various parts of the United States and Denmark, gave us different perspectives and experiences on which to draw, and allowed us to investigate the history and archaeology of the island more fully. Stay tuned for the blog entries from Vibe, Andreas, Mandy, Casper and Eric…

1 comment:

Judy Sichler said...

Lots of cool work going on! Can't wait to get Mandy back to TN to hear what she found. Awesome place to do thesis and diss. research, no!?!?!? All the best. Say hi to Ken for me.