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?
One of the smallest lizards on St. John is the Dwarf Gecko. This tiny, inch-long reptile is native to the island, while many of the other geckos arrived on sailing ships in the 17th century. Dwarf Geckos feed on insects in the forest during the day, while most other geckos are nocturnal feeders.