Friday, May 17, 2013

Hi, my name is Amy Rieffer and I recently finished up my three month archaeology internship with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park. It's nice to be back in Iowa, but I miss the great people I met on St. John. Working for the park was a great way to be able to experience many aspects of archaeology that I previously had no background in.

While I was working on St. John the interns ended up doing a variety of jobs, but our primary task was to run the archaeological museum on the Cinnamon Bay beach. We would greet the public and answer any questions they had while also working on some laboratory work. A few times we even had local school groups come in to learn about the history of the island and observe some of the things we have recovered. Our laboratory work mainly involved the analysis, cataloging, and labeling of archaeological materials from one of the past Cinnamon Bay digs. We also washed and analyzed new artifacts we brought back from the many small projects we did on the island.

When we weren't in the museum, we did many different types of field work. Every so often we went out to help the park volunteer groups with projects such as clearing vegetation from historic ruins or creating a rock wall to stop erosion along a gut. After we finished clearing the more obscure sites we would often return to map the area more accurately, take photographs and recover the visible archaeological materials. We also helped out with a special project done by a group from the University of Southern Florida. They were collecting photographic data using LIDAR and 3D scans of the petroglyphs off the Reef Bay Trail. From the information gathered through that project we may soon find many more petroglyphs that aren't easily visible to the naked eye. We even made a few trips out to Hassel Island, off of St. Thomas, to work on the newly cleared trails. Hassel Island is the most densely covered historic area that I have ever visited; there are literally artifacts everywhere you look.

Occasionally we did get to do a bit of excavation. We did a short salvage dig along Cinnamon Bay where an area of the beach embankment was eroding due to high tidal surges. This area of the beach had been excavated the previous year, but the increasing erosion started revealing even more prehistoric artifacts. We thoroughly mapped out the visible area and removed any archaeological materials which were visible. Additionally, we went to St. Thomas one day to help out with the preliminary excavation for the newly discovered site along the main street which will soon be completely excavated.

Volunteers are crucial to maintaining the park and helping promote the history of the island. In the past we have had numerous volunteers help with archaeological excavations, but when there aren't any excavations going on many people don't realize there are other volunteer opportunities at directly relate to that we archaeology interns work on. We do allow people to help with the washing and labeling of artifacts that we are constantly collecting on small projects. Additionally, this year Kent and Paula Savel have started a docent program at the Cinnamon Bay Archaeological Museum. The docents work for about three hours a day, once a week during the peak tourist season. Most of the time they talk to the people who are interested in the museum and answer questions. This allowed us to have some more time to concentrate on the laboratory work. Usually they worked in pairs and gave an hour presentation about the island which included a talk about the prehistoric peoples of St. John and a walking tour of the Cinnamon Bay Plantation ruins across from the campground.

I loved working on St. John. Hopefully, I will be able to visit St. John sometime in the future to see what's new in the museum and learn what else Ken and Kourtney have uncovered about the history of this unique island.

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