Archaeologist Dig Working with St. Croix Students

St. Croix children get hands on experience with archaeological dig.
St. Croix children get hands on experience with archaeological dig.

Four archaeologists have their work cut out for them as they excavate a slave quarters site at Little Princess Estate on St. Croix.

The quarters were first occupied in the 1740s, but long after the slave period ended the buildings continued to be occupied as part of a public housing program in the 1950s and squatters lived there in the 1960s. The land is now under the care of the Nature Conservancy.

During the first day of excavating many artifacts had been found including buttons, nails, building materials, pieces of glass and ceramics, Ayana Flewellen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas-Austin, told the Source Tuesday

“We really have our work cut out for us,” she said about dating the materials.

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However, that challenge has not stopped her and her associates at the dig from bringing in 13 students from the Christiansted and Frederiksted chapters of the Boys and Girls Club of the Virgin Islands to expose them to what archeology is all about.

Justin Dunnavant, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said Tuesday the project that developed over the last year and involves youngsters from age 12 to 18 is “going well.”

Dunnavant and Flewellen arrived on St. Croix Sunday along with Alicia Odewale. They have been joined by Alexandra Jones to make up the team. The team will be working at the site until the end of July. But their first item of business is working with the students from the Boys and Girls Club until July 1. Flewellen said the goal is to expose the students to scientific methods and also career opportunities.

Boys and girls received archeology classroom instruction.
Boys and girls received archeology classroom instruction.

Flewellen and Dunnavant – co-founders of the Society of Black Archaeologists – first came down in June 2016 with members of Diving With a Purpose with the intention of establishing underwater and terrestrial archeology training programs for local youth.

They talked to many local organizations and found the Boys and Girls Club summer program, Junior Scientists in the Sea, as a perfect fit. The project soon led to the certification of 12 young, local divers.

“We are so happy for the opportunity to partner with the St Croix terrestrial archeology program,” said O’Neil Canton, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. “It’s a tremendous benefit for our members. This is a totally new subject for most of the members and we are encouraging them to make the best of every moment of it. First was PADI certification for this same group a couple weeks ago and now terrestrial archeology. Who knows what’s next?”

The remains of four cabins have been identified at the site. Monday was devoted to cleaning the site, mapping standing structures, and setting up excavation units. It was decided to excavate between cabins 2 and 3 to get a better understanding of how shared space would have been utilized amongst the enslaved community.

Dunnavant said, “I’m excited to expose students to new educational and career opportunities. Few have ever met an archaeologist and now they have the opportunity to see themselves in this role. While they all may not become archaeologists, we hope they at least gain a better understanding and appreciation for the history and cultural heritage around them.”

Jones, founder and CEO of Archaeology in the Community, said working with the youngsters was rewarding.

“It is amazing to work with such brilliant young minds and to witness them make connections between what they already know and the new scientific techniques they are learning through archeology,” Jones said.

The archaeological field school is led by members of the Society of Black Archaeologists and funded by the Slave Wrecks Project. Collaborators include Diving With a Purpose, the Boys and Girls Club St. Croix, the Nature Conservancy, the University of the Virgin Islands, the National Park Service, Archeology in the Community, and Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism.

David Hayes of the St. Croix Archaeological Society helped with excavation equipment.

Flewellen told the Source Tuesday, “I am glad to be part of a project that centers on educating Crucian youth about the historical and environmental heritage found on St. Croix and the surrounding waters.”

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