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HomeNewsArchivesAncient Burial Grounds Could Provide Link to Past, Officials Say

Ancient Burial Grounds Could Provide Link to Past, Officials Say

March 19, 2007 — More than 40 residents came out to learn more about a collaborative effort that seeks to excavate and examine enslaved African burial grounds on St. Croix.
Scientists hope the project, entitled "Voices From Beyond the Grave," will provide a link to the island's historic past.
The project is a collaboration between the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, and the Danish-led Galathea III scientific expedition.
Among the panelists leading the discussion were Preservation Office Director and project leader Myron Jackson; Danish anthropologist Pia Bennike, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen's laboratory of biological anthropology; and Christopher Elliot, managing partner of William and Punch developers, which is planning a casino resort on the island's northwest shore.
But the ensuing discussion elicited more questions than answers as audience members expressed differing opinions on the subject and questioned the meeting's late notice to the community.
Bennike explained the project's objective was to obtain "empirical evidence" of the life experiences of enslaved Africans that cannot otherwise be gathered through historical research. Through forensic and other scientific tests, scientists can gather data on the remains, which would reveal age at death, ethnic origin, stress indicators (such as heavy work), childbirth, diet, the effect of diseases, and even the geographic location of the subject's birthplace in Africa.
She said this knowledge would tell the Africans' side of a story that has mainly been recorded from a European viewpoint, and allow descendants to access and connect to their past.
The meeting was held Sunday evening at the St. George Village Botanical Garden, which is the site of a former plantation on the west end of the island. The area has a reported 40 grave sites on the property, dating from the slavery era to present times. Board members of the garden reported that they were contacted to be a part of the project and were asked to allow excavation to be conducted on grave sites. This request prompted them to call an emergency board meeting and a community discussion. A notice to the community was sent out on Friday from the Preservation Office.
Ancient grave sites are also on the Punch Estate, according to Elliot. "Jackson is taking the lead on this," he said, adding that VISHPO has been "very professional." Elliot said the resort developers have made the decision not to have any development in the area of the ancient graves. "There will be no development there," Elliot said. "It is an important historical site."
The William and Punch developers and the St. George board have yet to make any decisions on whether they would allow scientists to proceed with excavations or examinations of grave sites.
Resident George Tyson asked if the panel thought enough residents were informed of the project and the meeting. "It's incumbent on our government to enlist the opinions of the public," Tyson said. "If this has not been done, you are not respecting the living or the dead."
Holding up a document that Tyson said listed the names of 70 people who are buried at St. George, he remarked that organizers must make every effort to contact the descendants. "They may have something to say about it," he said.
Resident Maren Roebuck agreed. She said many Virgin Islanders were becoming more interested in tracing their genealogy. And although the descendants of the graves in question may not have "looked after" the sites, if they are disturbed without informing the community, the project could face serious opposition.
Edgar Lake said it was "stunning" that an effort to involve more of the community was not evident. He asked that a complete summary of the project be made available to the community.
"These are not just graves," said Kendall "Sego" Petersen. "They are restless spirits" waiting for the day they can tell their story. Petersen said he was "enthusiastic" about the project, which would answer questions about "our ancestors" regarding diet and health, among other things. The study would "bring the truth out," he said.
"It’s a profound mission," said resident Diane Hampton, who shared that she had just returned from a visit to Africa. She urged the panelists not to take this lightly and urged the participation of the University of the Virgin Islands. "This is an international issue," she said.
Brigitte Kovachevich, senior archaeologist with Soltec International, one of the collaborators on the project, told the audience that "everything will be meticulously documented and replaced as they were."
Jackson agreed that there should be a greater effort to engage the community but asked about the outcome. Would a decision be made not to disturb the graves or would the study be allowed to gather the DNA and reconnect the community with its past?
Jackson took the opportunity to speak about the public cemeteries on the island, noting their "bad condition" and desecration that have occurred at the sites. "This public engagement may raise the conscience of the community regarding the final resting places of the dead," he said.
On Monday, Jackson said the Preservation Office has scheduled another community meeting on the project at the UVI cafeteria Friday at 6 p.m. He urged the community to attend.
For more information, call the office at 773-1082.
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March 19, 2007 -- More than 40 residents came out to learn more about a collaborative effort that seeks to excavate and examine enslaved African burial grounds on St. Croix.
Scientists hope the project, entitled "Voices From Beyond the Grave," will provide a link to the island's historic past.
The project is a collaboration between the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, and the Danish-led Galathea III scientific expedition.
Among the panelists leading the discussion were Preservation Office Director and project leader Myron Jackson; Danish anthropologist Pia Bennike, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen's laboratory of biological anthropology; and Christopher Elliot, managing partner of William and Punch developers, which is planning a casino resort on the island's northwest shore.
But the ensuing discussion elicited more questions than answers as audience members expressed differing opinions on the subject and questioned the meeting's late notice to the community.
Bennike explained the project's objective was to obtain "empirical evidence" of the life experiences of enslaved Africans that cannot otherwise be gathered through historical research. Through forensic and other scientific tests, scientists can gather data on the remains, which would reveal age at death, ethnic origin, stress indicators (such as heavy work), childbirth, diet, the effect of diseases, and even the geographic location of the subject's birthplace in Africa.
She said this knowledge would tell the Africans' side of a story that has mainly been recorded from a European viewpoint, and allow descendants to access and connect to their past.
The meeting was held Sunday evening at the St. George Village Botanical Garden, which is the site of a former plantation on the west end of the island. The area has a reported 40 grave sites on the property, dating from the slavery era to present times. Board members of the garden reported that they were contacted to be a part of the project and were asked to allow excavation to be conducted on grave sites. This request prompted them to call an emergency board meeting and a community discussion. A notice to the community was sent out on Friday from the Preservation Office.
Ancient grave sites are also on the Punch Estate, according to Elliot. "Jackson is taking the lead on this," he said, adding that VISHPO has been "very professional." Elliot said the resort developers have made the decision not to have any development in the area of the ancient graves. "There will be no development there," Elliot said. "It is an important historical site."
The William and Punch developers and the St. George board have yet to make any decisions on whether they would allow scientists to proceed with excavations or examinations of grave sites.
Resident George Tyson asked if the panel thought enough residents were informed of the project and the meeting. "It's incumbent on our government to enlist the opinions of the public," Tyson said. "If this has not been done, you are not respecting the living or the dead."
Holding up a document that Tyson said listed the names of 70 people who are buried at St. George, he remarked that organizers must make every effort to contact the descendants. "They may have something to say about it," he said.
Resident Maren Roebuck agreed. She said many Virgin Islanders were becoming more interested in tracing their genealogy. And although the descendants of the graves in question may not have "looked after" the sites, if they are disturbed without informing the community, the project could face serious opposition.
Edgar Lake said it was "stunning" that an effort to involve more of the community was not evident. He asked that a complete summary of the project be made available to the community.
"These are not just graves," said Kendall "Sego" Petersen. "They are restless spirits" waiting for the day they can tell their story. Petersen said he was "enthusiastic" about the project, which would answer questions about "our ancestors" regarding diet and health, among other things. The study would "bring the truth out," he said.
"It’s a profound mission," said resident Diane Hampton, who shared that she had just returned from a visit to Africa. She urged the panelists not to take this lightly and urged the participation of the University of the Virgin Islands. "This is an international issue," she said.
Brigitte Kovachevich, senior archaeologist with Soltec International, one of the collaborators on the project, told the audience that "everything will be meticulously documented and replaced as they were."
Jackson agreed that there should be a greater effort to engage the community but asked about the outcome. Would a decision be made not to disturb the graves or would the study be allowed to gather the DNA and reconnect the community with its past?
Jackson took the opportunity to speak about the public cemeteries on the island, noting their "bad condition" and desecration that have occurred at the sites. "This public engagement may raise the conscience of the community regarding the final resting places of the dead," he said.
On Monday, Jackson said the Preservation Office has scheduled another community meeting on the project at the UVI cafeteria Friday at 6 p.m. He urged the community to attend.
For more information, call the office at 773-1082.
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.