History & Culture
Virgin Islands National Park encompasses over half the island of St. John and almost all of Hassel Island preserving stories of the prehistoric past and over a hundred historic sites that together complete one the most undisturbed and comprehensive Caribbean landscapes.
Significant prehistoric sites are present on almost every beach and in every bay within the park. These archeological sites date from as early as 840 BC to the arrival of Columbus. There are early nomadic hunter-gatherer Archaic Period sites, followed by early chiefdom villages, then complex ceremonial sites and each with their own burial grounds. These sites have given us a greater understanding of this Caribbean region’s prehistory, and the religious and social development of the Taino culture that greeted Columbus. These sites have dramatically increased our understanding of the ancient rock art that is found throughout the Caribbean islands. We now known when Caribbean rock art was carved, why they were carved in these specific areas, such as those found in the park at Reef Bay, their purpose, religious meaning and how they reflect cultural development.
After Columbus’ arrival, the Virgin Islands' became one of the first melting pots, made up of many cultures from around the world. European powers competed for strategic and economic control. They brought enslaved workers from Africa. Historic landscapes and architectural remains of hundreds structures from plantation estates are found throughout the park. Ruins include windmills, animal mills, factories, great houses, terrace walls, and warehouses. In addition to these plantations are at least two thousand house sites that were occupied by the enslaved workers and their graveyards.
Did You Know?
There are three species of lizards found on St. John. The iguana, which is not a true lizard, are vegetarians and are often found in trees. When threatened, they escape by dropping to the ground or into water. They can fall 40-50 feet to a hard surface without injuring themselves.