Plans are in the works for the reburial of human remains which have been washing up at Cinnamon Bay for years, according to National Park Service Archaeologist Ken Wild.
The remains are washing ashore from their original burial site, which is now under water a few hundred yards away from the beach, according to Wild, the Cultural Resource Manager for the V.I. National Park.
Not much is known about the lives of the people whose remains are resurfacing, added the archaeologist, who said studying the remains is difficult, because they are disarticulated.
They are probably of African descent, but we dont really have a time frame on them, Wild said. They could be from the 1680s to the 1800s, which is basically the full time frame of when the Cinnamon Bay plantation was in operation. Over that period of time, you can have a lot of people who lived there.
The reburial ceremony for the remains may not happen for six months to a year, added Wild.
Weve got to go through the necessary steps to do this properly, he said.
Wild consulted with several local church leaders on Sunday, Feb. 25, to determine what type of ceremony would be appropriate for the reburial of the remains.
We met on Sunday, and it went really well, said Wild. We basically want to keep it very simple. We just want to bury these individuals in the most proper and respectful manner.
The basic components of the ceremony were discussed, but details will not be finalized until the remains are ready for burial, said Father Charles Crespo, pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church.
The problem that we really have is that Ken has a lot of work to do, said Crespo. We cant really take the next step, because he said it will take six months to a year to get through the red tape. As soon as that is done, we will meet to put together a service, which wont take us very long.
Remains Washing Ashore
The people whose remains have washed ashore may have died from a cholera epidemic at the plantation, and appear to have been burie in haste, said Wild.
Theres a good possibility that they were not enslaved, because after emancipation, there was a cholera epidemic there that caused 21 deaths in a weeks time, he said. Its not uncommon here in the islands for people to be buried on the beach. You just cant dig up in the hills, but you can on the beach.
Basic information about the remains was collected in an archaeological study.
Range of Ages, Both Sexes
There was one archaeological study done to identify race and age, said Wild. Its a very basic examination, and doesnt involve any major testing. One of the people was in their 90s, and there were children too.
A range of ages is represented in the remains, said Wild, and both male and female remains were found.
The remains will be reburied behind the archaeology lab at Cinnamon Bay, which is expected to help buffer the site from erosion, said Crespo.
We want to put it in a place where it would be protected from the sea and other future storms, said Ray Joseph, retired Moravian Church pastor. We didnt want it to be too far from the sea, though, and that area behind the building seems to be substantial.
Remains are expected to continue washing ashore, and the site will be monitored on a regular basis, because its the proper thing to do, said Wild.
If human remains continue to be unearthed, as they probably will, we will have an annual ceremony on the same day every year, where we would once again bury any additional remains, said Crespo.
The remains will be reburied in an ossuary, or a coffin for bones, and a simple marker will indicate the site.
Proper Reburial Deserved
Although Wild said he values the remains for their ability to provide archaeological information, he said he believes they deserve a proper reburial.
As an archaeologist, theres many reasons for keeping such a collection, but theres no reason that these people should not be reinterred, he said. In this particular instance, we have something thats valuable to understanding mans entrance into the Americas, but these remains need to be reinterred. Its the proper thing to do.
When Joseph heard about Wilds desire to rebury the remains, he said he was happy to help.
Those of us that heard about it were happy to be willing to cooperate with them, he said. I would ask you the same thing about anyone close to youdont you think they should get a proper reburial? This is the concern of most everybody.
Crespo said he was also pleased when Wild contacted him, and that conducting an interdenominational ceremony is necessary when the exact origins of the remains are unknown.
Whether or not our denominations are represented, the dignity of a proper burial for those who lived before us is important to us all, said Crespo. We dont have all the information about who these people were, and theres very little chance that more information will be unearthed, so the best thing to do is give them a dignified burial. Obviously he (Wild) cares profoundly about doing what is right for those who did not receive a traditional burial.
Conducting an interdenominational ceremony is the correct way to handle the reburial of the remains, Joseph agreed.
We would not be using any one type of service, but each will be contributing something, he said. It will be a pretty simple and dignified ceremony that all of the pastors who are participating put together. Its probably the best way.
The remains deserve a proper reburial, said Joseph, because of the haste with which they were originally buried.
We hope to try, in a sense, to correct our errors of the past, he said. Because of the outburst of these plagues that happened, folks didnt know what else to do but get rid of the bodies as quickly as they could.
Although final details will not be decided for several months to a year, Crespo said that he hopes to hold the ceremony in conjunction with a date that is historically significant to the Virgin Islands. The ceremony will be open to the public.
Return Human Remains
Wild asks that anyone who may have recovered human remains from Cinnamon Bay return them to the VINP.
Its possible that somebody may have picked up human remains out there, he said. If they do have them, they may want to come forward, and lets try to get everybody back where they belongout of respect for the dead.
Wild stressed that individuals who turn in artifacts will not be punished.