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!