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 : June 2020



As we continue to adapt to the new normal here on St. John, we have been completing various projects both in the field and back in our Archive. Ken has been busy planning the archaeology lab and museum collections facility that the park aims to construct in the next couple years. He has also been in the process of hiring a new curator for the park. A curator will be a much-needed addition to our Cultural Resource Team.  The curator will be responsible for the cataloguing of 1000s of artifacts, and maintaining the park’s museum collection.

Anne Finney, who has been working with Cultural Resources at the park for many years now has been doing a lot of work reviewing the construction and stabilization plans for our historic structures, including Creque Marine on Hassel Island, Reef Bay, and the Annaberg Sugar Factory. The work that Anne does is vital to making sure that structures are repaired in historically appropriate ways, and that the cultural landscapes are accurately preserved for future generations.

We have evaluated a number of shovel tests in the Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay areas in order to prepare for potential construction sites. At Trunk Bay, we have been in the process of scouting locations for a new Reverse Osmosis plant. The goal is to make sure that the new construction will not impact the landscape views that visitors and residents experience, but also to ensure that there will be no damages to the c.900 AD pre-historic village site located at Trunk Bay. We were able to make use of the map we created back in September to decide what areas would reduce the risk of cultural impact. The proposed area for the new RO plant falls outside of the prehistoric site boundary, and we conducted a series of shovel tests as well as a pedestrian survey in order to ensure that there were no unknown sites or cultural relics anywhere within the site boundary.

We have also been out at Cinnamon Bay working on getting a bank of sand bags placed in order to slow the beach erosion and to protect untouched archaeology. The summer trail crew has been a huge help to us on this project. We have been able to place over 1000 bags so far, and hope that they will help to save the archaeology in this upcoming hurricane season. We are happy to report that the removal of the asbestos pipes at Cinnamon Bay will be beginning within the next few weeks. It was a disappointment to everyone when the reopening of the campground had to be postponed back in September when asbestos was found in a portion of the sewage pipe. However the concession team at Cinnamon has been working continuously on getting the campground space ready for reopening. During the pipe removal process Ken and I will be monitoring from a safe distance, checking to ensure that the archaeologically sensitive areas are not impacted and remain preserved. Years ago on a previous pipe project, a site dating to ~300 AD was discovered. Because the current work at Cinnamon Bay is being conducted within existing trenches—replacing old piping for new within the same space-- we don’t expect to encounter any new prehistoric sites.

As we prepare for hurricane season we are also making sure all of our equipment, artifacts, and documents are stored safely.

Thank you to the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, Ken Wild, and NPS for supporting my internship.

Sandbag protection work at Cinnamon Bay with the Friends Trail Crew. 

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : April/May 2020


April and May brought new challenges to the VIIS archaeology team as we worked to find a way to stay productive and safe during the park closure and COVID-based territorial shutdowns. We are thrilled that we were able to complete projects and adapt to the unexpected situation.

For the first portion of the lockdown I was able to stay very busy by editing reports about various St. John plantations that were written by Danish students as part of a year long research project conducted on St. John. These Danish students work for about a year conducting research in the archives in Denmark before coming to St. John for an on-site investigation. The findings of their intensive research are laid out in the resulting report. Since English is the second or sometimes third language of these students, many of the reports need some reworking before they can be made available to the public. These reports are also formatted to be accessible to the visually impaired.

In addition to my editing, I was also able to begin coming over to St. John where we were focusing our work at the Durloe plantation, which was intended to be the focus of this year’s Danish project. We were assisted by Friends of VI Park trail crew, led by Mark and Taylor. Not only did we clear the existing ruins, we also were able to identify many new structures. These included unidentified structures that are suspected to be servants’ quarters and a kitchen, as well as the previously undiscovered slave village. We previously had thought that the enslaved village associated with the Caneel Bay plantation was at a different location, but upon further investigation we were able to locate an entirely new village that had never before been recorded.

Ken has also been busy coordinating with the Park Service hurricane recovery teams to make improvements to existing structures damaged by the 2017 storms, and to build a new museum, collection, archaeology lab, and archival space that will be open to the public.

We also conducted a survey of an area at Mary’s Point that resulted in the discovery of a new enslaved housing site, as well as a scattering of artifacts, such as pottery and shell, that confirmed the use of the site. We also were able to complete this phase of archaeological investigation at Cinnamon Bay and have begun the process of backfilling with sandbags to prevent beach erosion.

Durloe Plantation
Olivella Shell Bead from the Taino 

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : February/March 2020


February has been filled with a lot of work in the archaeology department. We have been continuing our work at Cinnamon Bay, and have been making great progress. We have had a lot of interested visitors stop and talk to us, usually asking for more information about what type of archaeology we conduct in the park, and it has been great to be able to share information about St. John’s history and the archaeology work we are doing.  A group of Danish students visited with a class of students from the Montessori School on St. Thomas. These students came to St. John to learn more about the Danish history on the island. We hope to have more school groups visit us in the future, and also welcome any volunteers who want to learn more about Archaeology.

St. John has experienced sea levels and tidal patterns rising which is causing more and more beach erosion at Cinnamon Bay. A combination of global warming and increased hurricane intensity has worsened these erosion issues. The area we are working in is becoming increasingly at risk of beach washout and a resulting loss of cultural material, so by continuing our dig at Cinnamon we are able to save significant artifacts that help tell the story of the Taino who lived here. I have also begun working with PhD student Jessica Samuels from Boston University as she conducts research using the park’s archive. It has been great to have a member of the St. John community utilize this park resource! February was Black History Month which was celebrated in part with the Folklife Festival held at the Cruz Bay Ballfield. It was wonderful to get to interact with so many of the students and community members on St. John. We were happy that we got to set up three stations for people to learn about our current projects, artifact recovery, and artifact analysis.

At the beginning of March, Ken Wild and I spent a couple days working with the buoy maintenance and commercial diving team with the park. Ken conducts underwater surveys before any new screws are placed underground in order to ensure that no underwater cultural resources are harmed in the placement of buoys or moorings. On dives like these, I assist topside with dive time and air pressure tracking as well as by making sure that the divers are handed all the tools that they need for the dive once they are in the water. This was followed by a Landscape Architecture and Historical Preservation Field School coming to St. John from the University of Georgia. We were thrilled to have them on here to map the cultural landscape at Annaberg to include a significant number of structures and areas that had yet to be recorded, mapped, or photographed. One of the main focuses of this field school was to map in the historic aqueduct and cisterns that supplied water to the people who lived at Annaberg. The team of students also mapped in new portions of the village sites of those who were enslaved and living on Annaberg. Another exciting aspect of this project was how quickly we were able to present this project as an educational resource. By March 16th we had 5 different grades from Gifft Hill School come to Annaberg to learn about the Aqueduct system and the recently uncovered enslaved village sites. For More information on the Annaberg Aqueduct project, check out the follow up to this post below.   

We are disappointed to learn that the Danish students and Elizabethtown College field school who were scheduled to arrive at the end of March have been forced to cancel their research trip to St. John due to the growing issue that COVID-19 has presented. However, the Danish students research on the 1733 slave rebellion is continuing thanks to the online archives and hopefully we will still be able to map this historic episode as it unfolded across the island’s landscape.   As I am sure everyone has experienced, the spread of this virus caused many unexpected changes in plans as travel slows and social distancing becomes increasingly important. If you are looking for some at home learning, check out the articles posted on the Archaeology page of the Friends website. 


Project Detail : Georgia/ Annaberg field project

As a part of the repair and recovery of the Annaberg cultural landscape there has been an effort to expand our knowledge of the history of Annaberg. A Landscape Architecture/Cultural Landscape field school with University of Georgia students was tasked with recording new attributed of the landscapes and structures. Our main goal was to add in parts of the historic aqueduct and cistern system that supplied the enslaved Africans living at Annaberg, as well as the livestock, food production/gardens, and factory production of sugar and rum. The aqueduct extends up the hill on the south side of the factory. Although some groups may have visited the aqueduct system in the past, it has been over 7 years since anyone had seen the ruins, and the structures had never been accessed or added to the Cultural Landscape Inventory.

We were intent on locating the aqueduct and completing this project because it helps to provide a better picture of the lives of the enslaved people at Annaberg. By projecting a drawn map of the aqueduct and cisterns onto a satelite image of the area, I was able to georeference the drawing and get location-specific points that I could then load into a GarminGPX device. This allowed me and Ken Wild to go into the hillside armed with loppers with the goal of both finding the aqueduct system and cutting a path so that the structures could be accessed by the Field School who would be arriving the following week. We were happy to discover that our Garmin device was able to navigate us to the cistern structures, and we ended up finding and clearing the aqueduct and cisterns. As the goal of this project was to better represent the realities of the Annaberg Factory, both the operation system as well as it’s violent history, we also put our time and resources into locating and mapping additional villages that were lived in by enslaved Africans.

We went into the landscape and located a few points of interest. Ken and I, with the help of Mark Gestwicki and some very impressive Sierra Club volunteers, cleared whole areas of catch-and-keep. For anyone not familiar with it, catch-and-keep, or Acacia retusa, is a vine like plant that grows grows into dense bushes and is covered with hooked spines. We recorded numerous structures and sites that would have aided in housing the some of the 665 Africans who were enslaved by the owners of Annaberg. We also recorded grave location information which is key to protecting those sensitive areas from any potential impacts or damage. We were then able to use this field project as an educational opportunity for students from 5 different grades at Gifft Hill School on St. John. Students came out and learned about how the Aqueduct system and the Enslaved Villages all play a key role in accurately depicting the historical landscape at Annaberg. 

Intern Log : Alessia Isolani : January 2020


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


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


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


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


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.

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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