Archaeology and Cinnamon Bay


This is an image of the Cinnamon Bay Archaeology Lab taken after Hurricane Maria in September of 2017

Within hours of the passing of Hurricane Irma the Friends began receiving letters, emails and calls from our members, many of whom share a deep appreciation for our park's unique and valuable cultural resources. We also had a great many people ask about the well-being of our park staff, such as longtime St. John resident and park archaeologist, Ken Wild. Along with expressing an interest in replacing the Archaelogy Lab at Cinnamon, many people wrote to share their a deep appreciation for Ken's many years of work spent building our park's archaeology program. We reached out to Ken to hear his thoughts in the wake of the storm - his reply is below. We thank Ken for taking the time to share his reflections with us, and look forward to being able to continue to support the park's archeology program, for generations to come!

 Just a few weeks before Irma hit a team of climatologists came and gave a presentation on what to expect from future super hurricanes. We took them to Cinnamon Bay and discussed what will be lost and what we had done to prepare for the inevitable.  

Twenty-five years ago I along with fellow archaeologist Regina Leabo of the NPS excavated a small test unit at Cinnamon Bay. What we found was astonishing and completely unprecedented. The dirt at the beach edge had unbelievable preserved in near exact sequence, century atop century the last 500 years of prehistoric life here in the Virgin Islands. While we were there we saw how Hurricane Hugo had just recently demonstrated just how threatened this shoreline and site were by erosion.  

So when the Friends asked in 1998 what was an urgent and critical need that they could help with; it was without question saving these pristine chapters of the Caribbean’s history.  So began the park’s archaeology program.  Over the next several years excavations continued nearly non-stop and though only a small portion of the site was dug what was saved was remarkable. We discovered Classic Taino culture was here with all its elaborate art. That the site was their version of a church where ceremonial offerings were made providing us an insight into the meaning of Caribbean petroglyphs, prehistoric life, and the extent of cultural interaction from Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to  Antiqua, and along the shores of South America.

We also discovered that the little white house on the beach was one of the oldest standing structures in the Virgin Island’s dating back to the sixteen hundreds. All the while we knew time to share all this new knowledge about this historic place and ancient site was limited. So the Friends helped us create a working lab with archaeological exhibits. It was designed so that the artifacts could be removed quickly and we could continue to work and interpret these ancient sites before they would be lost forever.

Well the massive hurricanes came a little sooner than even the climatologists predicted and yes it would have been nice to have had a few more years to share these wonderful discoveries on site. Nevertheless, the NPS mission was achieved, we had saved what we could and interpreted to our community and visitor as much of this treasured past and special place as was possible.

Having objects made by the people and cultures that came before us on display, provided us a timeline of physical proof of our islands rich past, inspiring a new appreciation for our island’s heritage in both an older and younger generation and a desire to preserve these treasure for all to enjoy. Now we have that chance to create a truly special place where we can insure our heritage is safe for all to see.  

The Friends has funded the Archaeology Interns Program since 1998.  You can learn more by visiting the Program section of this website. You can also read more about archaeology in VI National Park on the Archaeology Program Interns' blog, here. If you are interested in contributing to our future archeology projects including the replacement of the Cinnamon Bay Lab, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 

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