Elizabethtown College maritime archaeology intern explores history just below the surface
Just off the shoreline, in the shallow waters of St. John in the Virgin Islands, there are graves, well pits and sunken vessels. In and around these underwater features are treasures. Not the monetary type divers search for in deeply sunken pirate ships but, rather, treasures of the cultural past – clues to early foodways, lifestyles, farming, interactions and altercations.
Studying petroglyphs, cemeteries and shipwrecks at the National Park Service Archeology Program in Cinnamon Bay, interns follow the lives of early indigenous people and the Europeans and Africans with whom they crossed paths.
Mary Clyne ’16 has been living in a tent on St. John since October 2016, uncovering history of the indigenous Taíno people and other pre-Columbian cultures that lived in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. She said she hopes to learn about and preserve their heritage.
Clyne, who majored in English and minored in anthropology at Elizabethtown College, became an intern after prompting from Bob Wheelersburg, professor of anthropology.
“Eighty percent of the island is National Park,” said Wheelersburg. The interns working there search for clues about the world of the 1500s and 1600s, when the Danish government owned the islands, when the land masses were a stopover for the slave trade from Africa and when sugar and rum plantations reigned.
It gives them a chance to see if this is what they want to do as a career.”
To introduce other E-town students to the Cinnamon Bay Archeology Program, Wheelersburg said he plans to take a group to a field school in May. They’ll have an opportunity to work in a unique environment, involving many cultures. The field school, he said, is part of the “Ethnicity and Identity in the Caribbean” program, funded by a college Collaborative Interdisciplinary Scholarship Program grant.
Wheelersburg and Vanessa Borilot, assistant professor of French at E-town, will team-teach classes on Caribbean history and culture during May trip. While Wheelersburg, and Monica Smith, E-town’s director of diversity, conduct field research with students in St. John, Borilot and College Librarian Sylvia Morra, will lead a group to Martinique to study literature.
As an intern, Clyne said she digs, screens, catalogs and analyzes artifacts, leads school groups, hikes to see the ruins and reconstruction work on the plantations and edits archaeological reports. The Advanced Open Water PADI Certified-diver is working on her “blue card” diver certification to dive for the Park Service.
“I was lucky that I got to take a wide variety of classes including English, anthropology, biology, different languages, art and history (at E-town)” Clyne said, noting that she learned so much from her professors about these different fields so that she could pursue an interdisciplinary field such as archaeology.
“I want to learn about how the Caribbean was inhabited and what those people from the past can teach me,” she said. “I hope to tell the stories of the people who built the great cities on the Yucatan Peninsula, who molded the first piece of gold, and who first set foot on St. John.”
Clyne said she has applied to Leiden University in the Netherlands for its master’s degree in human osteoarchaeology and, following grad school, she might pursue pre-Columbian archaeology research in the Caribbean and throughout the Americas to continue new research in prehistoric archaeology, human osteology and the early people living in America.
Or, she said, “I may stay on St. John, forever, doing whatever it takes to keep living here!”