By Sage Burch
Marketing and Communications Intern
Abroad in St. Croix from June 24 to July 15, students dug for a “lost” graveyard near an 18th-century enslaved laborer village. The U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix is home to the Estate Lower Bethlehem, a sugar plantation in operation during the 1730s and shut down in 1966. Locals wished to honor their ancestors, so with the help of the National Guard, SMCM students, and professors Dr. Ford and Dr. Lenik, the three-week excavation commenced.
Besides the excavation, students spent their time conducting ethnographic interviews with the locals to discover more about the plantation and burial site, and studied Crucian culture, history, and language, earning four credit hours. They also visited other natural and cultural sites in the area.
The plantation of enslaved laborers left behind many markers of their lives. The St. Croix Source reported that SMCM students discovered pieces of pipe, ceramics, glass, nails, spoons, and of course, human remains.
Lenik reported that whenever bone was discovered, it was carefully reburied.
The artifacts they find will be shipped to Maryland for analysis, and then returned for display, according to the St. Croix Source. The SMCM study tour was also featured in an article in the Virgin Island Daily News.
Students came away from the experience with knowledge relating to heritage management, excavation, ethnography, and the interpretation of discovered artifacts.