The Virgin Islands National Park is once again welcoming kids to experience the excavation process at the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab.
More than 20 high school students from St. Croix’s Good Hope School who participated in the excavation process at the archaeology lab with VINP Archaeologist Ken Wild on Wednesday afternoon, April 4, were given a taste of how artifacts are found and what can be learned from them.
Wild discussed the many artifacts found at Cinnamon Bay which give an insight into the daily lives of the Taino, people who inhabited the Virgin Islands from about 900 AD to the early 1500s.
“We’ve found a lot about the Taino at Cinnamon Bay,” said Wild. “They had a very stratified society, which was very complex.”
Much of what has been discovered points to the Taino’s worship of ancestors, explained Wild.
“A lot of times, they would use human bones for worshiping their ancestors,” he said. “They would even use bones to make soup so they could take in their ancestors.”
Some of the artifacts discovered portray human faces with bat noses — another indication that the Taino were worshiping their ancestors.
“They believed bats came from the underworld and brought their ancestors to this world,” said Wild.
One artifact which Wild displayed for the Good Hope students — a human face with a bat nose and elaborate headdress — represented a chief who had died, as only Taino chiefs wore headdresses, Wild explained.
Several artifacts found at Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay display two human faces — one with a bat nose — looking at each other.
Evidence of Slave Revolt
“They are mirroring the worlds of life and death,” said Wild. “You’ll find a lot of this in Taino culture. They really didn’t do much of anything without consulting their ancestors.”
There is evidence of the 1733 slave revolt at Cinnamon Bay, when the plantation was burned, and Wild has also found gold, beads and manatee bones used in statues.
While many St. John beaches offer up archaeological evidence, it was a necessity to excavate at Cinnamon Bay, Wild explained.
“This beach is eroding, so we had to excavate here,” he said.
Digging Through Time
While digging, archaeologists encounter levels that represent different periods of time, Wild explained.
“A level can be arbitrary, but if a site is well-preserved as you go through the levels you will go through time,” he said.
Wild used the Cinnamon Bay site where a pit is being dug for the reburial of human remains that are washing up at the beach to demonstrate the excavation process.
“Archaeology concentrates on those parts of history there is nobody to tell us about,” said Wild. “Archaeologists are really passionate because this is disappearing knowledge. Tutu Mall is a big reason the Virgin Islands has laws protecting archaeology — the developer allowed archaeologists to come and excavate the Taino village there.”
It’s important to be thorough when excavating a site, Wild explained.
Archaeology Like “Big Puzzle”
“Look at the stains, smell the dirt,” he said. “It’s like a big puzzle — the better you do your job, the better you can interpret those people who are gone. What you find can tell us about their diet and the environment.”
Wild welcomed the students to join the field of archaeology.
“I encourage everyone to take anthropology classes — they will help to make you a well-rounded person,” the archaeologist said. “There are very few African American archaeologists and anthropologists. I encourage you to study your own heritage and history.”
Other Virgin Islands schoolchildren should take advantage of the opportunity to learn about the islands’ history, Wild explained.
“We definitely want to encourage teachers to think about bringing their classes out,” he said. “We really want to get as many schoolkids involved as we can.”
Students Welcome at Lab
The students should be in sixth grade or higher, and Wild recommends the students spend at least one hour at the archaeology lab to be able to fully experience the archaeological process.
To sign up to visit the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab, contact VINP Education Coordinator Laurel Brannick at 776-6201.
For more information on the archaeology lab, visit www.friendsvinparch.blog-spot.com.