Friday, August 05, 2011

Hey all,
I'm Megan. I'm from Wisconsin, and going to be getting my masters in Anthropology/Archaeology at UW Milwaukee. I just finished an internship here at VI Natl. Park, which lasted the month of June and was pretty much amazing. June was mosquito season on St. John (or do they swarm year-round? I'm skeptical that you could ever be mosquito free on the island), but despite that, I got to take part in some pretty interesting and unique projects, a summary of which follows:
Cinnamon Bay Reinternment
This project (for those who have not scrolled down further) is to reinter remains of those individuals that were enslaved here and have washed ashore. Since the topsoil on St. John is so rocky, most of these burials occurred on the beaches. Hurricanes and erosion, however, have played a large part in the unearthing some of these gravesites. The end result of this is that the park service has at least 30 individuals that have been eroded out.
The community members of St. John decided that the current site on Cinnamon Bay (right behind the lab) would be the best place to reinter these remains. There is, however, a lot of archaeology already in the spot; this is where the archaeology interns come in. Because the project has been ongoing, we started excavation 70 cm below ground surface. In one 10 cm level, we found numerous pot sherds, lithics, and marine shells dating to the Taino culture on the island roughly 1000 BP.
Hassel Island:
Hassel Island is on the south side of St. Thomas and home to a number of historic ruins. The ones I got to see were the old army barracks at the top of the main hill, and Creque Marine Railway; Creque Marine is the site of the longest running steam powered marine railway in the world.
The park service is putting a trail in on Hassel, and our job was to find the barracks that would be by the trail. We bushwhacked our way through cactus, thorny vines, Christmas bush (a relative of poison ivy) and wild pineapple (also thorny) to enter in the GPS coordinates of the ruins. Once that was accomplished, we set out to enter in more coordinates of the path. Later, heavy machinery would use the coordinates we entered to clear the path and take out the vegetation that proved to be more than a match for our machetes.

There are a number of plantation ruins on St. John, and the park service needs to map them. This is so it knows what condition they are in and what types of buildings they consist of. This was probably the most fun project because we got to hike through the woods and find the ruins we needed to map that day. Mapping the site would take a few hours, even with the handy laser measurer; there were just so many components. At one site, there were at least 10 structures: an animal mill (to mill sugarcane), the sugar factory, a retaining wall, an ox pen, a bake oven, a kitchen, a main house, and a few quarters for those enslaved here - plus all the unidentified structures that were mostly rubble.

All in all, it was a productive internship. I am so glad I got to experience what it's like to work on St. John, and I am especially grateful to the Friends of the Park, who made it possible for me to be there, and to Ken and Kourtney for letting me work with them.