Thursday, November 12, 2009

My name is Eric Vane and I am a newly arrived archaeology intern courtesy of the Friends of the National Park Service. I graduated from Beloit College in the great state of Wisconsin (which was experiencing 35 degree weather when I left) with a B.A. in Anthropology. After spending a summer walking cornfields for an archaeological firm in northern Illinois I am more than excited to escape to warmer climes and tropical jungles.
This is my second stint on St. John with Ken Wild, and The Friends of the National Park Service. My first experience lasted three weeks from May to June of 2008 predominantly on Hassel Island. I assisted with the surface collection of the Leprosarium/ Yellow Fever Hospital, and helped process the artifacts. I also worked with several Danish students who were exploring the history of Hassel Island by using the archives on St. Thomas, and St. John.
So far my six days back on St. John have seemed like a vacation in comparison to last year. Instead of hard cots and platform tents at Cinnamon Bay we have fans, electricity, and… gasp… real mattresses at Maho Bay. Instead hacking through dense jungles of thorny plants, and poisonous brush we have been in padded chairs in air conditioned labs; we know this will end soon. Despite the air conditioning we have all been eager to get into the field, and so today we went to investigate a reported gear/ship wreck off Henley Cay on the South western side of St. John. After setting anchor Katherine, Margaret and I snorkelled along the coastline until we encountered the reported “gear”, which turned out to be an old airplane engine. While Ken was diving the site and recording the find we also found some additional wreckage including what we anticipate is the plane’s wing and the wreckage of a sailboat they may have crashed into the island and sunk during one of the many hurricanes that have hit the islands in the last few decades.
Margaret and I are getting ready to move into the Cinnamon Bay campground on November first, so we shall enjoy our last few days with the fans at Maho. We have opened up the Cinnamon Bay lab, cleaned it out, and spent a couple days there this week washing ceramics from the Cinnamon Bay excavation. We also reopened an old excavation unit nearby, which has lain dormant since 2007 with the exception of a colony of biting ants whom were busy doing their own excavation. Only one 10 centimeter level has been excavated here and already a Danish coin, the smallest Taino shell bead to date and an eye inlay for a Taino wooden Zemi statue. This unit is being excavated for the reburial of the human remains that have eroded from the shoreline at Cinnamon Bay. This excavation will be stopped again for a short time as we once again travel to Hassel Island. This time we will be monitoring the removal of a very old dump at Careening Cove. There is no telling what we may encounter as the cove has been used for centuries.
Unfortunately today is Chela’s last day of work, and we will hate to see her go. Other than that I am excited to be back in the Virgin Islands, and am having a great time.

-Eric Vane-

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My name is Chela Thomas and I have been working for the National Park Service for a few months now. In this time, I have been trained in the preservation of artifacts from various places on St. John and from an old Yellow Fever hospital and Leprosarium on Hassel Island. My appointed tasks included making bags and tags for the artifacts as well as washing them at times. I am able to catalog the artifacts and verify that everything from the site that I was working with is accounted for and included in the reports.

I grew up on St. John and I recently graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. I have been travelling between St. John and St. Thomas for as long as I can remember, so being able to work with the different artifacts has opened my eyes to the way things were. This is my second summer assisting with artifact preservation and I have come to enjoy it very much. My duties last summer included cataloging the historic photographs and some of the same things as now.

While working on the artifacts form the Leprosarium, I took a particular interest in the bottles fragments. I wanted to know what different types of bottles were used for and how they were made. I learned that most of the bottles I had encountered were used for medicine or alcohol. As I cataloged artifacts from other sites, my interest grew from just bottles to glass in general. I wanted to know how the different types of glass got their distinct colors. My interest in glass got me into trying to analyze different types of finishes and trying to guess what the bottles would have been used for. While most glass is undiagnostic, there are some bottles and maker’s marks that have specific date ranges attached to them.

In addition to glass, I recently have gained an interest in different types of ceramics including porcelain and shell edged wares. The variety they contain is amazing. Each pattern has a different date range but they tend to overlap in certain cases. Some of these ceramics are still in production today and even though they are mass produced, they look the same as they did when they were first being made.

Finally, due to my background in science, I was asked to assist Susanna in the conservation of archeological metals. This involves the use of chemical indicators and titration to determine the level of chlorides still present in the metals. We are trying to look at the chloride levels on a monthly basis and just received funding to improve our conservation set-up with new tanks and more sodium carbonate.

On the whole, I feel that my experience here has deepened my appreciation for the islands and I hope that I can continue my work here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hello from Margaret!

Hello Everyone! I’m Margaret McWhorter, one of the new archaeology interns. I’m from South Carolina and graduated from the University of South Carolina (the real USC) this past December with my bachelors in Anthropology and Russian. My main focus in school was prehistoric archaeology and I am so excited about St. John’s prehistoric offerings. Today is my second day here and I am already getting exposed to lots of different areas of National Park Service life. This morning we had a large meeting with the National Park Service regional directors and other regional bigwigs. Later on today Ken, Kathryn, Lauran and I are going out to Trunk Bay to survey the ruins of the former manager’s house. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming; I couldn’t be happier to be down here working in such a beautiful place. I really want to thank the Friends for making this possible.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"More Than Science"


Imagine coming from a neat, cold little country, where there is no wild nature what so ever and where each science and each university department live their separate lives in a public funded coziness. When you live in a place like that and you go abroad to do scientific research in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is not only the science itself which will be a challenge.

In May 2009 we were a group of five students from the Saxo-Institute University of Copenhagen (history, archaeology and ethnology), who became interns for the National Park Service (NPS) program on St. John. The purpose of the trip was to solve the mysteries of the eighteenth century plantations on the Northeastern part of the island. A trip that not only gave a much better impression of the living conditions at the plantations, but also loads of tropical experiences.

We already started out in February by tracing and studying old archival material regarding the eighteenth century plantations on St. John in Copenhagen. When the Danes left the West Indies in 1917, they took most of the archival material with them home to Copenhagen. Furthermore, much of the archival material is written in Danish, so cooperation between N.P.S. and University of Copenhagen was obviously beneficial for all.

After three months of archival studies and preparations in general, we went to St. John to investigate our archaeological project area. Together with NPS archaeologist Ken Wild, we explored the rough landscape around Brown Bay and the East End.

The hills on St. John are a rocky and steep climb in an unfriendly jungle; that is if you come from the flat and cultivated Denmark. So, we did not only face tremendous academic challenges but also physical ones. The bugs, the heat, the vegetation and the landscape were all hard but very giving and fun experiences that helped to expand our views of fieldwork.

Thanks to the competent leadership of Ken Wild, we all managed to make it through and find many of the plantations described in the written sources for example: an old Danish document describes a main house situated on the hillside west of the bay at Brown Bay. This source led us to an undiscovered ruin with artifacts dating from the eighteenth century. In general through the dating of the artifacts we found at the plantations, which were mainly potsherds, it was possible to some extent to decide when the plantations were inhabited. The fieldwork and the archival research will be joined together in several reports, which will contain our final findings from the internship.

It is our hope that people in future will be able not only to visit the ruins but also to learn about the people who actually lived there. There is still more work to be done, but we are glad to have been a part of it.

We are very thankful to the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, Ken Wild and the National Park Service who made this great experience possible.

Hi, Lauran here again. I finished my Master's thesis and graduated and was able to make it back to St. John in time to experience the last week of the Danes' internship!! To re-cap, while the Danes were here, 7 new plantation sites were found including 2 new sites that we stumbled upon while looking for another plantation!! So, lots of excitement, but this means we have a lot of work to do! I'll be heading into the lab this week and next week to finish analyzing the rest of the artifacts from these sites so I can get the Danes the artifact date ranges to go in their reports. Don't forget to stay tuned this summer for our next adventure in archaeology!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hey all! Katie here; unfortunately, writing for the last time. My time on St. John has come to an end. I’m headed back to the Midwest to continue work, look into several graduate school opportunities and in June I’ll be headed back to the Middle East to continue work at an archaeological site I worked on last summer. These past months I’ve had an incredible time doing archaeology with the National Park on St. John! I’ll miss it; but most of all, I’ll miss the people I’ve met and worked with during my stay. Ken, Rafe, Susanna, Jeff, everyone at the biosphere, the volunteers and everyone at the Friends of the VI National Park office, thank you just doesn’t cover my gratitude. I owe you all for giving me this spectacular opportunity. I’ve learned and experienced so much; from metal conservation and operating fickle Trimble GPS equipment, to report writing and making a tent home. Thanks for the memories everyone!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From Vibe and Andreas on making the Hassel Island Report

Hassel Island 1688 – 1801
An unusual Plantation

Prepared for the National Park Service, US Virgin Islands
Andreas Latif & Vibe Maria Martens, University of Copenhagen

1. The making of the report
2. How it was to read ”the obsolete language” of gothic Danish hand writing:
i.e. Mr “Hot king son”
3. What was the most extraordinary thing about researching in the archives
4. The most difficult thing about writing the report
5. What we think about the outcome of the research

1.) When we started writing our report back in February 2008, the general plot of the report was actually already in place. One month early Vibe and I were presented with the proposal that we could write the early history of Hassel Island, which meant everything as far back possible before the first British invasion in 1801. We knew from looking at the old maps and photos, that Hassel Island would be a somehow tropic and very Caribbean experience. However, Hassel Island would prove to be a different encounter, then that we had in the beginning of the process, where we were merely looking at photos and maps of the island. Together with Ken Wild and Niklas Thode Jensen we decided to focus on writing the story of early life on Hassel Island, a story stretching from 1688 to 1801, the starting point determined by which sources was available in the National Archives. Back then one should remember that Hassel Island was an isthmus or peninsula; first in the 1860s did it become the island that we know today. What we wanted to achieve with our report was to uncover who and why people lived on Hassel Island. A task that was as amusing as it was difficult.
2.) From February 2008 to the start of May 2008 we spent nearly every day in the Danish National Archives searching for owners of the Hassel Island plantation. Sitting in the archive amongst all the old boxes with documents that have not been opened for centuries makes you feel rather humble, but also privileged. The worst thing about being at the archive is that you use the first 3 weeks to learn the difficulties of the gothic style hand writing. However, once you have cracked the code it is a great achievement to have accomplished. One of the funniest memories from the archives was when we stumbled across a guy from the 1730s called Mr.“Hot king son”. One thing you have to remember when you are sitting in the archives is to be very quiet - but when we when found this guy “Hot king son” we were in fits. This Mr. “Hotkingson” was probably a Mr. Hutchinson, but because the Danish clerks were Danish (obviously) and because there were no tradition of “correct spelling” as we know it today; as well as the clerks probably had difficulties pronouncing the “tch” in Hutchinson, the name was spelt in this rather amusing way. Mr. Hutchinson became a Mr. Hotkingson.
3.) The most extraordinary thing about being in the archives was when we struck gold, for example when we discovered one of the owners had been murdered on Hassel Island, and subsequently were able to uncover the police report and the document listing the administration of the estate. Sitting day in and day out without making significant progress can be quite demanding. But then, when you least expect it, the information you were hoping for will show up, and that is a wonderful feeling, when you can tie up loose ends and uncover new histories.
4.) Looking back at the process the most difficult phase of the writing process was combining the archaeological findings on Hassel Island with the archival findings from Copenhagen. We were not certain at any point in the writing process whether the archaeological part and the archival parts finds respectively would support one another. Yet another aspect in writing the report was the fear of writing something uninteresting and irrelevant. However, when we got back from the U.S. Virgin Islands and read the report again, it wasn’t half bad; so that was a nice surprise.
5.) The outcome of this project between National Park Service and Copenhagen University is a 100 page long report which contains the early history of Hassel Island. We are quite happy about the result of our report. We have been very pleased with this opportunity to really study in depth and it has been a great experience being in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last of all, is that it has been a great pleasure working with Ken, Niklas and all the other lovely people we have met in connection with this internship.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Volunteers help clear Sieban and L'Esperance Ruins

St. John's Lone Baobab Tree, Sieban Plantation Ruins.

Hey everyone! Katie again, just wanting to get everyone up to date with what has been happening in the archaeological world here on St. John. Sadly, Jen recently returned stateside to continue working for the University of Iowa and Lauran has left as well to finish her Master’s thesis. Everyone here at the Biosphere misses them both already! However, our new archaeology intern, Andrew, is here! He’s another Midwesterner, like me, and is thrilled to be working with the National Park Service doing archaeology on St. John.

Since the last blog entry in mid-January, work has been moving along at an inland historic plantation site known as Sieben. With the help of National Park volunteers clearing brush from the surviving structures, we’ve been able to complete our surface collection and map all artifacts using our GPS unit that gives us up to 10 centimeter accuracy if the vegetation is reduced. We must recover this surface material now that visitors have been directed through the ruins by a new trail. It is important that we get the artifacts where they were left historically. This information can tell us so much about the site like how old certain sections and buildings are, different activity areas and about the people who lived and died here. So please if you see an artifact leave it and let us know. We have recovered a wide variety of interesting historic ceramics that were produced throughout Europe, also bottles, and even a large iron cooking pot that could be from the early 1700s. Some of the household ceramics that we’ve collected are datable to the early 18th century up until the mid-20th century.

Lauran, Jen, Katie and Ken, after a surface collection at Sieban.

Land list records indicate that Johann Hienrick Sieben owned the land and built his plantation in 1718, making Sieben plantation one of the earliest on St. John. So far, artifacts collected from the surface number over one thousand and we’re not done yet. Lauran’s knowledge about historic ceramics is impressively extensive and over the past few weeks, she’s been teaching me all she knows about analyzing the historic ceramics that have come from Sieben. On a side note, one of the fantastic natural features present at the site is the African Baobab tree. Growing along the edge of the ridge overlooking Reef Bay, it is only one of its kind still present on the island.

A big thank you needs to be given to all the folks who have volunteered their time helping us clear and cut brush from the ruins over the past few weeks. We really couldn’t have done all that’s been accomplished with out you.

Jeff Chabot and his crew of hard working volunteers, on the Grand Staircase at Seiban.

Speaking of volunteers, Lauran, Jen, and I had a potential archaeologist helping us wash the artifacts from Sieben at the Cinnamon Bay lab. Thanks for your help Tralyn!

Clearing began last week at L'Esperance, another plantation located in the same valley, from the same time, but just north of Sieben. We’ll keep everyone up to date with what is happening and what we find out about this plantation in the coming weeks.

L'Esperance Ruins

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lauran's Farewell

Hi, again! It’s Lauran. Well, I’m very sad to say that this will be my last blog entry…for a while at least. I’m heading back to South Carolina to finish my Master’s thesis, then preparing to go to West Africa for Peace Corps. I cannot even say how much I’ll miss St. John, especially doing archaeology here! I’ve been so lucky to work with such great people here; Ken, Susanna, Katie, Jen, all of the park employees at the biosphere, Jeff and all the wonderful Tuesday/Thursday volunteers. The volunteers have really helped us get the plantation ruins cleared so that we can do the archaeology and GPS the structures. This has been a dream opportunity for me to do archaeology here because the island has so much history and many well preserved sites! I’m going to miss working with everyone and I’m really going to miss the island! I want to thank Ken Wild for giving me the opportunity to work here and I want to thank the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park for their support!! I hope to come back soon!!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hello everyone!

Hello everyone! This is Jennifer and Katie, the newest interns here at Cinnamon Bay for the National Park Service. We’re both from the Midwest (Iowa and Missouri respectively) and are just grateful for this amazing opportunity to get away from the ice and snow for awhile! We’ve been here for about 3 weeks and we’re already learning so much about the history of St. John and life on the island. The people here have been incredibly accommodating and have all done so much for us during the process of settling into our new home. Working at the archaeology lab/interpretive center at Cinnamon Bay has helped us to really understand more about the variety of people and cultures before us who have called this island home.
Most of the work has involved analyzing artifacts at the Cinnamon Bay lab, recovered from various historic colonial sites around St. John, and informing the visitors to the area about the island's history. We’ve enjoyed meeting everyone that has come to visit us at the lab. A few days ago, we were thrilled to have our first lesson using GPS equipment to record the locations of multiple artifacts at a particular site. We were conducting a ground survey to look for sites on a newly acquired area for the National Park Service and found some interesting archaic artifacts. Jen found her first flake!

Before and AFter images of the RMSPC Clean Up

Last week we had the opportunity to tour the archaeological sites of Hassel Island and witness the clean-up of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Just recently we’ve been learning about the NPS’s artifact cataloguing system and all the work that goes into recording a site. While in the lab a few days ago, we put together a wonderful display of the different types of historic ceramics that are found on the island. This display will be used as a demonstration piece for talks given about the historic occupation of St. John.

So much has happened within the last week that we’re sure to be busy for awhile! In fact, today we were able to help move a swivel cannon to the archaeological lab at Cinnamon Bay. There it will begin the restoration process that we will conduct and monitor for the next few months. This is an extremly exciting opportunity for us and we’ll keep you posted on how things are going!

Jen and Katie