Centuries-old human remains found at Cinnamon Bay are now one step closer to being properly reinterred.
Virgin Islands National Park Archaeologist Ken Wild and his interns earlier this month began digging a second pit where the remains will be buried.
The remains are likely those of men, women and children who died in a cholera epidemic. They could have lived during the 1680s to the 1800s, which is when the Cinnamon Bay plantation was in operation.
“There is a good possibility they were not enslaved, because after Emancipation, there was a cholera epidemic there that caused 21 deaths in a week’s time,” said Wild.
Artifact Documentation Complete
An historic floor of the kitchen of a 17th-century house was discovered where the first planned burial pit was excavated last year, behind the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab.
After discovering the floor, Wild and his interns then had to document the area and other artifacts found, a process which was recently completed.
“We just finished up the kitchen floor and covered it back up,” said Wild.
Wild first met with St. John clergymen in February, 2006, to discuss the reburial ceremony. They concluded the area behind the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab would be the best site for reburial, as the lab will buffer the site from erosion.
“The new pit is almost right next to the old one,” said Wild. “We want it to stay in the same general area that the clergy recommended.”
While some of the remains are at the Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, other bones are being studied at the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab.
“We just had Kourtney Don-ohue here, who was one of my interns who went off to get her master’s in osteoarchaeology,” said Wild. “We invited her back to go through the remains and make sure we’re only burying human remains. She did remove quite a few that we know aren’t human.”
The remains in Tallahassee have been studied and are being held until Wild is ready to rebury them on St. John.
“A lot of the remains that were found a long time ago were sent to Tallahassee for study,” said Wild. “We know those are human. We don’t want them until we’re ready for them.”
Wild and his interns reached the “historical level,” less than a foot into digging the new burial pit.
“We were thinking it was going to be a cakewalk because we weren’t finding anything, then yesterday, we weren’t down quite a foot and we hit the historical level,” said Wild. “You can definitely tell when you hit the historical level. It’s very compacted.”
Notify VINP of Artifacts
The original estimated reburial date of February, 2007, has come and gone, and Wild is hesitant to speculate when the interment ceremony will take place.
“I’m not going to make any promises, because I don’t know what we’re going to hit in that ground,” he said.
The remains will be placed into an ossuary and reinterred in the burial pit in an interdenominational ceremony. Remains that continue to wash up will likely be reburied annually. A simple marker will indicate the burial site.
Bones are still washing up at Cinnamon Bay, and Wild cautions beach-goers not to touch possible artifacts.
“Things are still coming out of the beach, and the policy is to leave it there and come and get us,” said Wild. “Call a VINP ranger or call archaeology and let us know about it. If you have your digital camera, take a picture and email it to us, and give us a description of where it is.”