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.

Monday, April 27, 2015


            My name is Joseph Bomberger. I graduated in 2013 from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania with a Bachelors in Anthropology/Archaeology. The past four and a half months have led me to the realization that the NPS Archaeology Internship Program, funded by the Friends, is truly incredible. In the short time I have held this internship, I have participated in an array of activities that have been enriching personally, professionally, and intellectually. I am honored to have been given the chance to take part in this excellent program.

Cinnamon Bay Archaeology Lab and Education Center

            This winter we completed the final touches on the exhibits at Cinnamon Bay. The Heritage Education Center and Archaeology Laboratory has been a decade-long labor of love under the excellent vision of Ken Wild and the Friends. Dozens of interns have contributed to this monumental achievement and the level of excellence in their work shows in the displays. Starting with a simple computer model in 2005, it has stayed remarkably true to the original vision. The Education Center has grown into a rare treat for visitors to experience. It chronicles the entirety of human habitation in the U.S. Virgin Islands from the first native peoples 3,000 years ago to the purchase of the territory in 1917. Amazingly, the exhibits provide so much information and yet they are accessible to any generation. This makes the Education Center a valuable resource for schools in the Virgin Islands, allowing the children to experience the full history of their home.

            Celebrating the completion of this project, more than seventy-five individuals attended the grand opening ceremony on February twenty-fifth, including keynote speaker Dave Worthington, the Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources for the VI National Park; Senator Myron Jackson, U.S. Virgin Islands cultural affairs representative; Joe Kessler, president of the Friends; and Ken Wild, VI National Park archaeologist. Also on hand were Makeia, spokesperson of the TaĆ­no people in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Sean Krigger, deputy chief of the State Historic Preservation Office.

            A good portion of our time this season has been spent cataloguing and analyzing artifacts from the Cinnamon Bay digs, which began in 1998 and continued through 2014. We have been attempting to piece together a plethora of prehistoric pottery sherds. The diversity of these sherds and the complexity of their decorations are astounding. We have reconstructed pots of every size and shape imaginable, some with beautiful geometric patterns and interesting adornments. Equally impressive are the historic artifacts, though our focus has primarily been prehistoric. The historic ceramics are so varied that identifying them becomes quite fun. The amount of sub-varieties and regional variants of ceramics is incredible. The glass bottles are also diverse. They come in a surprising number of sizes, shapes, and colors which always keeps analysis interesting.

              Ken, Adam and Mikey (in order furthest to closest) moving artifacts with 'lift-bags' at Creque Marine Railway

            While we do not have any ongoing archaeological digs on St. John, the Friends have funded several restoration projects on Hassel Island under Ken Wild’s supervision. Earlier in the season we supervised the restoration of a historic lime kiln. Architectural plans are being drawn up for the restoration of the machine shop, and there are plans to build a coffer dam, drain the slip-way at the Creque Marine Railway and restore the walls to historic condition. To preserve the artifacts in the slipway, we have conducted dives to move them to deeper water. I have also had the pleasure of accompanying the Ken on the archaeological boat tour, which was quite a success. The interns presented at the annual Folk-life Festival and had possibly over one hundred people visited our booth over the course of the two day event.

Interns Grant Gittus (front-right) and Nanna Wienecke (center) disembarking at Leinster Bay

            We were joined at the end of March we were joined by two Danish interns – Nanna Wienecke and Louise Rasmussen – who have been conducting research in the Danish archives on the history of the Leinster Bay area. They were able to apply their knowledge of the historical record to help us discover and interpret more of the archaeological record.

            We may not have any active digs, but the work of an archaeologist is never over. It is important to remember that as archaeologists we are focused on the preservation of cultural resources. When tides threaten sites sometimes bold action is required to ensure the sites survival. Recently the waves uncovered a site at Cinnamon Bay. We were lucky enough to find it in time to run salvage operations and recover an exquisitely crafted red pot, relatively intact. Without the funding and support from the Friends for the NPS Archaeology Program this would not have been possible and the site would have been lost to the ocean. Thank you to everyone who came to the grand opening or have donated time, talent, or resources to the wonderful projects currently or previously sponsored by the Friends. We hope those who were not able to attend will be able to visit when they get a chance.