The excavation of a grave for the reinterment of centuries-old human remains found at Cinnamon Bay over the past several years has temporarily taken a back seat to a large project which is keeping V.I. National Park Archaeologist Ken Wild busy — the restoration of Hassell Island.
An historic floor of the kitchen of a 17th-century house was discovered at the original Cinnamon Bay site where the remains — likely those of men, women and children who died in a cholera epidemic sometime between 1680 and the 1800s — were to be reinterred.
Wild and his interns began digging a second burial pit behind the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab, and progress at the site has significantly slowed since the Hassell Island project began.
Cleaning Up Hassell Island
“We did do some excavation there two weeks ago, so we’re trying to get a little bit done,” said Wild. “The push right now is with the contractor on Hassell Island, which we’re getting prepared to have a whole lot of volunteers come out and clean up. The ultimate goal is for people to be able to enjoy the resources there.”
Wild is monitoring the contractor working at Hassell Island and making sure historic artifacts are not thrown away during the cleaning process, he explained.
“Before the cleanup, we’re doing collection of archaeology on the surface so we don’t throw away historic bottles with the beer bottles,” said Wild. “We’re taking things that should be kept and can tell us about the history.”
There are several historic landmarks on the island tourists and residents alike will be interested in, including the oldest and largest surviving marine railway, the only Napoleonic fort on American soil and yellow fever graveyards, Wild added.
“It’s keeping me busy,” said the VINP archaeologist. “You have to be there during the cleanup when you have that many resources you want to protect. It’s going to take us a while.”
Remains in Florida and St. John
Wild estimates the Hassell Island project will continue for several months. In the meantime, some of the human remains washed up on the beach at Cinnamon Bay from their graves — which are now underwater due to erosion — are at the Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, Florida. Other bones are being studied at the Cinnamon Bay archaeology lab. The study on the remains in Tallahassee has been completed, and the bones are being held there until they are ready to be reburied on St. John.
Wild and several local clergymen determined the remains will be placed in an ossuary and reintered in a burial pit in an interdenominational ceremony.
Remains which continue to wash up will likely be reburied there annually, and a simple marker will indicate the burial site. Wild cautions beach-goers who find human remains washed up at Cinnamon Bay to contact a VINP ranger, and not to touch the bones.
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