Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Archaeology in the Virgin Islands National Park: Spring 2015

            My name is Grant Gittus and I worked as an archaeology intern with the Virgin Islands National Park for two months in the spring of 2015.  I graduated from Montana State University in 2014 with a degree in Anthropology.  I learned an incredible amount during my time working with the NPS.  From cataloging newly discovered prehistoric and historic artifacts to working with Danish graduate students to discover undocumented plantation ruins, it is truly impressive what I have been able to be a part of during my time in the Virgin Islands.  Looking back on my two months of work in St. John I can say with confidence that this has been the one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences I have had since I began to study archaeology. 

Left to Right: Joe Bomberger, Louise Rasmussen,
Nanna Wienecke, Grant Gittus
            Not long after I began my internship, two Danish graduate students (Nanna Wienecke and Louise Rasmussen) from the University of Copenhagen arrived to begin their work on the island.  During their month stay on the island, there was no shortage of work while we assisted them in their research on the history of Leinster Bay and surrounding area.  Much of the work involved clearing ruins of vegetation which were rapidly degrading some of the buildings.  Luckily we had no shortage of volunteers as crews from R.E.I. Adventures and the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota were available to assist in cutting through the walls of “catch-and-keep” and help prepare the ruins for better preservation.  I had my most memorable archaeological experience when we discovered undocumented ruins on the east side of the island. 

Following a lead from a map created in 1780 we spent an entire day hiking up and down hills and cutting through dense, thorny jungle looking for the remnants of a great house.  With our water starting to run low we decided that we would turn around after we finished climbing the hill. Not more than two meters from where we made that decision we found a tiny piece of porcelain which signified occupation.  Further up the hill we found more artifacts and remnants of a few buildings.  To the Danes, it meant their research had paid off.  I will never forget that feeling of excitement and relief when we found the ruins.

One of Trimble's UAVs used to 3D scan
Annaberg and Leinster Bay
During the second week of April, a crew from Cyark and Trimble flew down to the Virgin Islands to work on the Annaberg and Leinster Bay ruins.  Cyark is an organization dedicated to digitally preserving some of the world’s most significant cultural heritage sites so that future generations may access them.  Using an array of Trimble’s 3D scanning and GPS technology, ranging from UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to complex 3D laser scanners, the crew from Cyark and Trimble scanned the Annaberg Estate ruins and the Leinster Bay ruins.  Once the models are completed later this year, we will have a unique view into the layout and architecture of the ruins which will allow us to further understand the history of the slave trade at Annaberg Estate and Leinster Bay.  It was a great experience to work with Cyark and Trimble as they used cutting-edge technology and equipment to digitally preserve some of the cultural heritage on St. John.

Currently we are working diligently in the lab to catalog both the historic artifacts we retrieved during our work in Leinster Bay and the prehistoric artifacts from the recently completed Cinnamon Bay excavation.  In only two months, I have learned an incredible amount about Caribbean Archaeology and how historic and prehistoric preservation is conducted within our National Parks.  Ken Wild, our supervisor and Park Archaeologist, has been an invaluable resource during my time here.  He has provided us (the interns) with experiences that are both educational and unique.  From sweating and bleeding as we cut through dense jungle to learning the intricacies of GPS as it relates to archaeology; from analyzing prehistoric pot sherds to assisting in three-dimensional scanning; my time on St. John with the NPS has been one that will prove to be irreplaceable as I continue my career in archaeology and the federal government. 

I would like to give special thanks to the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park for making this internship available through their fundraising.  Without their continued support of the NPS Archaeology Program it would be impossible to complete the incredible amount of heritage preservation which has occurred. 

Preview of the 3D model being created of Annaberg.
       Pictured here is the windmill.

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