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History

The Virgin Islands were believed to be uninhabited until the Ciboney Indians arrived from South America about 1600 or 1700 years ago.  The pre-Columbian Ciboneys were displaced by the Arawaks who were ultimately displaced by the war-like (and presumably cannibalistic) Caribs.  During the early 1700s, Europeans began to arrive in sufficient numbers to displace the last of the Caribs and begin the slow process of transforming the pristine woodlands of the islands into a quiltwork pattern of agricultural fields, open areas for cattle grazing, and small villages. These have now largely been replaced by wastelands, large cities, and much larger villages, all of which are interconnected by a network of paved and unpaved roads.  The pristine forests, first seen by the Ciboneys, have since been transformed into second-growth woodlands containing a great variety of introduced non-native species. 

The Virgin Islands were originally Spanish possessions, but several other European countries (Holland, France, England, and Denmark) attempted to establish colonies there.  As a consequence, a number of battles were fought which ultimately left the British in the northern Islands and Denmark on St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.  During the First World War the United States considered the possibility of an invasion of Denmark by Germany – a circumstance which could have resulted in the development of German military bases in the Virgin Islands.  The United States consequently purchased the Danish West Indies from Denmark.  The Virgin Island archipelago now consists of the British Virgin Islands(BVI) and The United States Virgin Islands (USVI).

Geological history

The geological history of the Virgin Islands dates back at least 100 million years to the Late Cretaceous and involves a complex history of undersea mountain building, periods of extreme volcanism, centuries of coral reef deposition, and several major changes in sea level. The Virgin Islands are located on an active plate boundary between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates.  The Virgin Islands Trough (deepest point over 4000 m) separates the island of St. Croix from the remainder of the Virgin Islands to the north. The islands north of the trough, St Thomas and St John, are of volcanic origin and formed by the subduction of one tectonic plate beneath another. The formation of St Croix is geologically associated to the islands of the Greater Antilles whereas St Thomas and St John are geologically associated with the Lesser Antilles.

Because of their position between two geologically active tectonic plates, the Virgin Islands are subject to sometimes severe earthquakes.  Such an earthquake occurred off the Virgin Islands on 18 November 1867 resulting in a tsunami on St. Croix which produced waves presumably ranging in height from nine to twelve meters (Zahibo, et al., 2003)

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