Jan. 23, 2003 – Funding problems are threatening the V.I. National Park's cultural resources, Ken Wild, the manager of that area of the park operations, told members and guests of the St. John Rotary Club on Friday.
However, the problem is not unique to the V.I. park, Wild, an archeologist, told the noontime gathering of about two dozen persons at the Westin Resort and Villas. Throughout the national park system, he said, money to deal with cultural resources is down.
But it's critical concern on St. John, he said, because of the wealth of history represented by ruins that have been excavated and rehabilitated, that are threatened by development and natural forces, and that have yet to be found.
Some of the remains of historic structures in the St. John park are literally being washed into the sea, particularly at Cinnamon Bay, he said. And others ruins throughout the park are crumbling as vegetation pushes up through the structures.
"They are about 500 historic structures back in the bush," he said. The park has identified 360 of them, he said, and he is guessing about how many others there are.
Work is to begin in March on rehabilitating a large outcropping of ruins in the bush by Leinster Bay. "A half a football field in there is another Annaberg," he said, referring to the park's best-preserved sugar mill and rum factory remains. "These ruins are falling down and becoming piles of rocks," he said.
A team of students from the University of Maine will arrive in March to create a three-dimensional map of the Leinster Bay ruins, he said, and another team from Syracuse University will create a database of the park's historic sites this summer.
Wild said the park and the adjacent Coral Reef National Monument also are home to 23 shipwrecks that need scientific exploration. Work is to begin next year to determine the ships' locations, he said, and that same project is expected to locate an estimated 500 to 600 "ghost" fish traps littering the sea floor, long abandoned by fishermen. The devices continue to trap fish, but no one pulls them up to release the catch, he said.
Wild has spent several years directing excavation projects at Cinnamon Bay, and more work remains to be done, he said. The temple of a Taino chief found a short distance back from the beach revealed a treasure trove of artifacts. Work has just begun on a slave village located at the water's edge.
Syracuse University student teams have excavated there for several years. They discovered that the village was burned during the 1733 revolt, probably because the Cinnamon Bay slaves remained loyal to their planter owners, he said.
"It's washing away, too," Wild said of the village. "If we don't get it, we've lost that chapter in history."
The village was not originally anywhere near the water's edge, he noted; severe erosion at Cinnamon Bay over the last three centuries has moved the waterline ever farther inland.
Wild said the structure that's utilized as the Cinnamon Bay archeology lab, and which earlier had been used as storage space, probably dates from the 1600s. Scientists determined this by evaluating pottery found at the site, he said.
Part of Wild's job involves excavating at Trunk Bay every time the park is about to initiate an improvement project. (See "Dig undertaken just before concrete is poured".) When areas are covered over with concrete, the artifacts buried in the sand beneath decompose, he said, and this is a particular problem with ceramics.
The Trunk Bay site dates from about 700 to 1000 A.D., that of the Taino temple at Cinnamon Bay dates from about 1000 to around 1500, and the Cinnamon Bay slave village came after that. In these three cultural resources alone, Wild said, the park provides a good slice of the island's history.
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