Archeology Intern Log

The Friends supports and funds the Park's archeology projects, including the placement of interns to assist the Park Archeologist. Meet our interns and learn about the range of archeological work being done in VI National Park.

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : January 2020

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Happy New Year!

We will be starting off the New Year with a lot of exciting work being done by the Park’s archaeology team. We are in the final stages of preparation for excavations at Cinnamon Bay Beach with the support of Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, and begin the digging and screening process this week.

Our interest in excavations at Cinnamon Bay is partly in the pursuit of continuing our past research there, but also because it is a time sensitive site due to of the erosion and beach washout in that area. We are working in order to recover artifacts and unique cultural information before it is washed out into the ocean and lost forever. As part of our ongoing efforts to stabilize St. John’s beaches, we will be backfilling all of the area excavated with biodegradable burlap bags and plants in order to slow the erosion. We are continuing to use this method of beach stabilization all over the island, and are making sure to do it in a way that won’t damage any cultural resources that remain underground. There are only a few places at Cinnamon Bay where we are concerned about damaging cultural resources in the planting process, but overall the park will be continuing planting on beaches all over the island. This week we are joined by visiting students from Beloit College who are staying at the Friends volunteer camp. They are learning archeological field methods, and helping with the digging, screening, and analysis components of the investigations.

We look forward to this new opportunity to engage the community, and want to welcome any classes or visitors to learn more at the site itself. If you have a class interested in setting up a time to come out and observe and learn please contact Aariyah Athanese at the Friends of VI National Park (340-779-4940) or Laurel Brannick at the National Parks Service (340-776-6201). Our Archeology lab at Cinnamon Bay was destroyed in the 2017 hurricane season and can no longer be used for lab work so we have converted the old lifeguard building at Trunk Bay into a temporary Archeology lab. If you see us working there, feel free to stop in and ask questions! After the departure of Beloit College, we will continue excavations at Cinnamon Bay and will be joined by various visiting students and schools throughout the year.   

Thank you to the Friends Organization, Ken Wild, and NPS for supporting my internship.

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : November/December 2019

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As the busy season for tourism on St. John has been picking up, we have been working on a few projects to get ready for the increase of park visitors! Work has been continuing at Trunk Bay to replace sewer pipes and electrical lines which involves monitoring in order to ensure that there is no unnecessary impacts on archaeologically sensitive areas. As a part of this project, I have also learned some tips and tricks including how to use a backhoe without destroying any archaeological resources. I have also been working on creating an informative map of Trunk Bay including the data I collected last month as well as data from past field collections. Having accurate maps that represent all of the different elements and points of interest is an important part of being able to make any changes to a landscape here in the park. It also allows us to more quickly and reliably evaluate any resources and potential impacts that could come from a construction plan.

We have also been continuing to work on projects aimed at repairing damage to historical sites from the 2017 hurricanes. Part of this involved a team of people coming to St. John to do a LiDAR scan of Annaberg, Reef Bay Factory, and Lameshur Great House. LiDAR is a form of 3D scanning that uses lasers to create a detailed image that will be used to formulate a reconstruction and repair strategy. While the team was here I helped them navigate to the different sites, and also gave them historical background information on all of the sites that they would be interacting with.

November also included the Paddle the Park event hosted by the Friends of VINP at Maho Bay. Volunteering at the event was a lot of fun, and it was great to see all the people coming out to support the park. I also recently participated in a practice Reef Bay hike. I hadn’t done the hike since I was a kid so it was really great to go back and learn so much more. NPS Ranger Laurel Brannick and Archaeologist Ken Wild helped by leading the hike and providing us all with valuable information.

In addition to the more field-based projects I mentioned, I have also been working on analyzing and cataloging artifacts from past excavations at Cinnamon Bay. The analysis portion of this consisted of identifying artifacts such as stone tools, beads, shell tools, and clay pot sherds. After the artifacts are analyzed, I then record any information about them using the standards set by the Parks Service cataloging guidelines. So far I have logged over 200 artifacts, and will be continuing to work on cataloging and analysis.

As we are heading into 2020 we are also looking ahead at the upcoming field season. We are working on getting everything ready to re-start archaeological investigations at Cinnamon Bay, and are looking forward to the opportunity to engage with the St. John community and schools through on-site demonstrations, lectures, and participation.

On January 5th Beloit College will be arriving for a 2 week Field School. They are the first of many college field schools we will host over the upcoming months, and we are looking forward to getting started on some interesting projects with them.

Thank you to the Friends Organization, Ken Wild, and NPS for supporting my internship.

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : October 2019

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Happy Archaeology Month! 

October has been another busy month here on St. John. We have been continuing our monitoring work at Annaberg Sugar Factory, and it has been great to see how well the project is coming along. I have also been doing a lot of mapping work at Trunk Bay. We have been using a Trimble GPS unit to map the beach and amenity areas at Trunk along with any sensitive archaeological areas. This mapping project has given me a lot of practice using the Trimble technology, and I’ve been able to learn a lot more about mapping archaeological sites. The mapping project at Trunk Bay was done in part because of the new construction work that will be conducted in order to prepare the beach and visitor amenities for the busy season. Construction and archaeology often go hand-in-hand but also usually includes some conflict as the easiest plan for construction may be incompatible with the surrounding archaeology. At Trunk Bay we are working towards a resolution that allows the construction to be completed without interfering with any of the archaeologically sensitive areas. I have also been working on writing the work reports for all of the projects being done at Annaberg, Cinnamon, and Trunk Bay which has been a great process to work on, and has given me more practice with making sure all fieldwork is properly documented and interpreted. 

For this month, our main event was the Archaeology Day that we hosted in the Visitors Center on Friday October 18. For this event we wanted to give the public a good sample of the collection of artifacts that the park preserves. This involved looking through our collection and pulling out artifacts that could represent the many chapters of both prehistoric and historic occupation of St. John. The event was attended by people of all ages, but it was especially great that students were able to come with their teachers and classes to learn about the archaeology work that the Park does. There were four separate stations, each telling a different portion of St. John’s history. The displays included information on prehistory, archaeological method, colonial era, and maritime archaeology. This month I also have been working on re-assembling and stabilizing the shell ceremonial offering that was displayed at the Archaeology day event. Although at first glance this artifact may seem to be no more than just a pile of shells, it is actually one of the most important and unique discoveries that has been made by park archaeologists. This ceremonial offering is the only one of its kind that has been found in the Caribbean and offers insights into the spiritual lives of the Taino people who lived at Cinnamon Bay. The feature consists of unopened shells, one of the clues that this shell collection is an offering and not food waste, and was found within an area of the site that was identified as a ceremonial house. This offering is also being used as a component of a research project on how faunal remains (such as shell) can be identified as a part of ceremonial activity. The research is being done as a part of a dissertation from a PhD student at the University of Florida. 

Work has also continued on other Friends funded projects such as ruin repair and stabilization. A team from the Everglades National Park visited Annaberg Sugar Factory this week in order to begin the process of clearing ruins of any vegetation and debris that would get in the way of the restoration process. The first stage of the repairs involves a LiDAR scan of the ruins which requires the structures to be free of vegetation. This vegetation removal will also improve the visitor experience by allowing for better visibility of the factor structure, and removing the plants that had grown the village where the enslaved people lived. I appreciate all of the support from the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park organization, and from the National Parks Service. 

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : September 2019

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Since my last post, things on St. John have stayed as busy as ever. Although the recent storms have slowed our operations a little bit, there have still been plenty of Archeology projects going on. I have been spending most of my time out at Cinnamon Bay monitoring the digging that has been going on in preparation of reopening the Cinnamon Bay Campground. I have been able to learn a lot about the monitoring process and construction methods, and everyone working on the construction project has been really helpful. It has opened my eyes to the different eras of prehistoric and historic occupation periods out at Cinnamon, and the role that the campgrounds have played in the St. John community over time. The monitoring responsibilities include specifying which portions of the land can be dug up, collecting samples and GPS points for any cultural materials that are found, and taking photographs and field notes for the parks project records. I have also been able to spend some time at Annaberg monitoring the construction of a new garden shed as part of a Friend’s project that will be making some improvements to Annaberg’s cultural landscape.

In addition to my work in the field, I have been making sure that we have all equipment necessary to be ready for our upcoming field season, and assisting in gathering information about the Park’s cultural resources as a part of the work that has been going on with the Hurricane Irma and Maria response team. I have also had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the park Archives and the amount of maintenance, work, and care that goes into keeping important information about our National Park safely stored. This month especially, I have learned a lot from Anne Finney who has been working in Cultural Resource Management, funded by the Friends, for the past four years. She has shown me how everything runs in the Cultural Resources side of the Park and helped me begin to catch up on the many ongoing projects in the park, which I really appreciate! I would also like to express my gratitude towards Ken Wild for this opportunity to be here, and to the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park for funding this Archeology Internship.

Photo:  Historic mother of pearl button found during excavations, a reminder of the many people who lived at Annaberg.  

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : August 2019

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My name is Alessia Isolani and I am working as an Archeology intern funded by Student Conservation Association (SCA) and Friends of Virgin Islands National Park and will be here on St. John for the next year. I was born and raised on St. Thomas before my family relocated to California where I completed a B.S. in Anthropology and Geography and concentrated in Archeology. I am thrilled to be back home getting to gain more archeology experience in such a complex and incredible National Park. My time here on St. John has already been filled with wonderful working and learning experiences.

For the past two weeks, I joined Park Archeologist Ken Wild and a team of divers from the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) and the Submerged Resources Center (SRC) for a survey of magnetometer anomalies on the North Shore of the Park lands. I worked with the team both documenting dive times, dive records, and underwater conditions as well as in the water observing their dives and survey methods. The team of divers we worked with were very helpful in explaining aspects of the methodology and pre-dive planning. The survey we conducted during this time was a result of previous research that had been funded by Friends of Virgin Islands National Park. I was able to learn a lot about Maritime Archeology, as well as Virgin Islands and St. John history.

As my time working with the dive team came to an end, things never slowed down as another group of specialized professionals from the NPS Hurricane Irma and Maria team came to St. John as part of the process of rebuilding and preserving historical resources that had sustained damage from the recent hurricanes. The team included people focused on botany, wetland/mangrove preservation, beach stabilization, historic structure preservation, historic architecture, and inventory of cultural resources. It was a great experience to see how much work goes into making sure St. John’s natural and historical resources are preserved and protected from the often volatile and damaging weather conditions. I learned about government compliance reports, and was able to get a more complete view of everything that goes into the National Parks Service.

I’d like to thank Friends of Virgin Islands National Park for making this internship opportunity available and supporting archeology in the park, and Ken Wild for all of the work he does for the archeological record and cultural resources in the National Parks. I have had an incredible two weeks working for VI National Park, and am looking forward to the rest of my year.

Photos:
Alessia Isolani (left) and SEAC Dive Team leader Eric Bezemek monitoring a dive. ©Photo by SEAC
SEAC, SRC, and VIIS divers ©Photo by Ken Wild

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