Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network
Number 10, Spring 1994Thomas R. Wheaton, Editor
Notes from the African-American Cross Cultural Workshop
Submitted by Carol McDavid
The purpose of the 1994 workshop was to discuss and debate
various theoretical approaches to the study of African American
archaeology (contextual, functional, traditional, post-processual,
etc.). Esther White (Mount Vernon Ladies Association) and Joe Joseph
(New South Associates) made brief formal presentations, after which
ensued a rather lively debate on the merits of various approaches and
a discussion of the social/political issues encountered when involving local
communities in planning and implementing archeological work.
White's comments dealt with what she termed a "contextual" approach
to studies underway at Mount Vernon, and the importance of dealing with
what she described as "three different levels" of context. She
first discussed the need for rigorous analysis of the entire assemblage in
relation to surrounding soils, TPQs of different levels, intrusions, and
so on, rather than restricting analysis to artifacts alone --
that is, the need to deal with "archaeological context"
more exhaustively. By focusing on the entire assemblage, researchers
at Mount Vernon have been able to see patterns which do not become
apparent otherwise, and have attempted to lay a foundation for
more effective intersite studies. White then stressed the need
to examine each site as part of a broader "historical context"; that
is, to analyze assemblages as part of larger systems -- systems
in which African Americans relied on, and were relied upon by,
different elements of the plantation, community, or region. Without
consideration of this kind of context, White pointed out, the tendency
is to fall back on particularistic, descriptive site reports. Finally,
she highlighted the need to implement minimum standards for reporting
data, in order to make meaningful comparative work possible. While
she did not use the term, "scientific" or "analytical"
context might be appropriate to apply to this third level of context.
Joe Joseph then pointed out that archaeologists dealing with
African-American sites cannot yet evaluate the success of various
theoretical approaches because they have not developed adequate
culture histories -- that is, until recently African Americans
have been studied as if they were simply another form of the "white"
or "dominant" culture. For example, using Miller's (1980)
approach to analyze ceramics on African-American sites would probably
be inappropriate, because that approach assumes that the people
who deposited the pottery in the archaeological record defined
status in the same way as did the producers, distributors, and,
in some cases, purchasers of the pottery. Joseph suggested that
the approach used by Brown and Cooper (1990) would be more effective
in studying African-American sites in that it recognizes African-American
cultural systems as having different roots than European-American
systems. He suggested that a more "ethnohistorical"approach
could help to develop a better appreciation of the processes ofacculturation
and adaptation that actually took place within African-American communities.
Discussion then moved into several areas. Dennis Poque (Mount
Vernon Ladies Association) pointed out that archaeologists should
expect to see a great deal of diversity in patterns found on African-American
sites. He commented that simply "looking for Africanisms"
is both simplistic and ultimately unproductive, and that archaeologists
will very likely see different patterns from plantation to plantation
-- that blue beads, for example, do not always mean "African",
and that other contextual elements need to be considered when analyzing
White and others pointed out the potential benefits of examining
previously excavated materials in the light of new approaches.
This led to a several comments about the need to encourage granting
agencies to fund analysis of "old" sites, and to several
suggestions about how funding might be obtained.
It was suggested that this newsletter might be a good forum
for publicizing research opportunities for graduate students to
analyze previously excavated material. [see the Thesis Corner in
this issue, ed.].
The discussion then moved into an examination of the issue
of whether to, and how to, involve a community in the archaeological
examination of a site, and how the archaeological, scientific "agenda"
for any given site could well be different from public, audience-driven
agendas. There were a number of participants in the workshop from
John Milner Associates, so the discussion revolved to some degree
around the issues that arose from the politically charged situation
surrounding the excavation of the African Burial Ground in New
York City. There was a great deal of spirited discussion about
a number of related issues.
- the power of the press in disseminating inaccurate information about a site;
- the desire of some contemporary community leaders to use African-American sites to "empower" those who perceive symbolic connections to the site;
- the ways archaeologists should, or should not, acknowledge and deal explicitly with those symbolic connections and perceptions;
- the importance of the idea of "ancestors" in African-American life, and the ways that not understanding this idea influenced the decisions of those originally involved in dealing with the New York burials;
- the need for the scientific community to deal more effectively with situations that are "spiritually charged."
- the need for archaeologists and other scientists to acknowledge, when planning and executing their research, that things that are "artifactual" may exist, for the audiences of archaeology, in a "spiritual" context;
- and the possibility of having a session on the New York African Burial Ground at the next SHA meeting.
In one sense, the discussion in this year's workshop came full
circle, from Esther White's initial comments about different levels
of context to a discussion of the influence of contemporary contexts
on the supposedly scientific process of doing archaeology. The
workshop clearly illustrated that even though we may define ourselves
as objective, rational scientists, we conduct our investigations
within a racially polarized and politicallycharged culture. That
culture affects our discourse with each other as well as our communication
with our various publics, whether those publics be politically
active New Yorkers or rural southern communities. As anthropologists,--
"of all people", as one participant put it later --
should be able to talk constructively and openly about issues of
race, politics, power and symbolism -- especially if we intend
to deal with such questions on the sites that we dig and analyze.
Brown, Kenneth L. and Doreen Cooper
1990 Structural Continuity in an African-American Slave and Tenant
Community.Historical Archaeology 24:7-19.
Miller, George L.
1980 Classification and Economic Scaling of 19th Century Ceramics.
Historical Archaeology 14:1-40.
Archaeological Evidence of an African-American Aesthetic
Submitted by Laurie A. Wilkie
Archaeological excavations took place at Oakley Plantation
in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana during 1991 and 1992. Four
African-American assemblages dating from the period of slavery
through the 1940s were recovered (Wilkie and Farnsworth 1992, 1993).
One of the most striking trends in the African-American assemblages
is the predominance of personal adornment related artifactsat
the house sites. Artifacts included in this group are buttons,
beads, jewelry, and hair combs. In the slavery-period assemblage,
personal adornment related artifacts comprise 10.0% (9 MNI) of
the assemblage. In the late nineteenth-century assemblage, 27.9%
(126 MNI) were related to personal adornment. The 1920s assemblage
had 21.3% (67 MNI) of the artifacts related to personal adornment,
while the 1940s assemblage has 23.6% (56 MNI) in this category.
Large numbers of personal adornment artifacts, most commonly
buttons, have been found at other African-American sites in the
Caribbean and American South (Adams and Smith 1985, Cheek and Friedlander
1990, Handler and Lange 1978, Wheaton and Reed 1990). Such high
proportions of personal adornment artifacts are not typical of
European-American sites (e.g. Wilkie and Farnsworth
1992; Wilkie 1988). Personal adornment comprises only a small portion
the planter assemblages at Oakley, with 6.1% (3 MNI) of the antebellumand
2.8% (2 MNI) of the postbellum artifacts being related to this
Some archaeologists have proposed that high numbers of buttons
may reflect a pattern diagnostic of African-American occupation.
This idea was first proposed by Eric Klingelhofer, as summarized
and then supported by Cheekand Friedlander (1990) and disputed
by Wheaton and Reed (1990). However, I would like to suggest that
buttons are only a part of a larger cultural expression.
Zora Neale Hurston (1981) in her essay "Characteristics
of Negro Expression" discusses the African-American love of
intricate designs, bright colors and ornamentation for ornamentation's
sake. Likewise, African-American authors such as Ernest J. Gaines
(e.g. 1971) and Richard Wright (1937) have described how fine dress
was particularly important on Sunday, when the African-American
community gathered for church.
Personal adornment serves as an expression of a personal aesthetic.
Adornment of the body can be achieved through jewelry, clothing,
hair plaiting, body piercing, painting, tattooing, tooth filing,
or scarification. All of these bodily alterations are common throughout
Africa (Rubin 1988), but were seenas threatening by European-American
planters, and usually discouraged under slavery. Denied this form
of personal expression, African-Americans seem to have turned to
personal ornamentation through material items. Beads are common
at slave sites, and represent a mode of ornamentation familiar
to African slaves. Buttons, which can be strung much like beads,
or used to decorate cloth in the same way as beads, represent a
common and inexpensive means of ornamentation.
The extent of personal decoration was limited not only by the
views of the planters, but also by the availability, and later,
cost of ornamental items. African textiles are well known for their
artistry and intricacy (e.g. Ben-Amos and Rubin 1983; Cole 1985;
Cole and Aniakor 1984; Thompson 1983). In contrast, clothes affordable
to tenants and domestic servants included muslins, calicoes, ginghams,
and denims (Oakley Collection, Turnball-Bowman Papers). While affordable,
these clothes were less than aesthetically stirring. Ledger entries
from Oakley demonstrate that African-American tenants bought "lace",
"trim", "beads", and "buttons" to
ornament their clothing (Oakley Collection). It is clear from
the diversity and quality of many of the buttons recovered from
the African-American features at Oakley that buttons provided a
relatively inexpensive means of elaborating simple clothing.
While buttons were the most common personal adornment artifact
at Oakley; beads, buckles, lockets, cuff-links, broaches, rings,
a lady's watch fob and a glass bracelet were also recovered from
the African-American features. The 1920s assemblage included one
celluloid, one tortoise shell, one hard rubber and one plastic
hair comb, representing attention to the "dressing" of
hair as well.
Archaeologists have already considered buttons as potential
indicators of African-American occupations. I would suggest that
we recognize the cultural behaviors behind the pattern so that
we may come to a better understanding of African-American world
view and daily life. The importance of ornamentation seen archaeologically
in African-American households may represent a direct continuity
of African personal aesthetic traditions.
Oakley Plantation Papers, Audubon State Commemorative
Area, West Feliciana, Louisiana.
Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries,
Louisiana State University.
Contemporary Publications and Published Documents
Adams, William Hampton and Steven D. Smith
1985 Historical Perspectives on Black Tenant Farmer Material Culture:
The Henry C. Long General Store Ledger at Waverly Plantation, Mississippi.
InThe Archaeology of Slavery and Plantation Life,
edited by Theresa A. Singleton, pp. 309-334. Academic Press, New
Ben-Amos, Paula and Arnold Rubin (editors)
1983 The Art of Power, the Power of Art: Studies in Benin
Iconography. Museum of Cultural History UCLA Monograph Series
Cheek, Charles D. and Amy Friedlander
1990 Pottery and Pig's Feet: Space, Ethnicity and Neighborhood
in Washington, D. C., 1880-1940. Historical Archaeology
Cole, Herbert (editor)
1985 I am not Myself: the Art of African Masquerade. Museum
of CulturalHistory UCLA Monograph Series 26.
Cole, Herbert M. and Chile C. Aniakor
1984 Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos. Museum of Cultural
History,University of California, Los Angeles.
Gaines, Ernest J.
1971 The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Bantam
Books, New York.
Handler, Jerome S. and Frederick W. Lange
1978 Plantation Slavery in Barbados: An Archaeological and
Historical Investigation. Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
Hurston, Zora Neale
1982 The Sanctified Church: the folklore writings of Zora
Neale Hurston. Turtle Island Foundation, Berkeley.
Rubin, Arnold (editor)
1988 Marks of Civilization. Museum of Cultural History,
University of California, Los Angeles.
Thompson, Robert Ferris
1983 Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art
and Philosophy.Random House, New York.
Wheaton, Thomas R., Jr. and Mary Beth Reed
1990 James City North Carolina: Archaeological and Historical
Studyof an African American Urban Village. New South Associates
Technical Report 6.
Wilkie, Laurie A.
1988 A Policeman's Lot: Early 20th Century Family Life in
Santa Monica. Report on file, UCLA Information Center, University
of California, Los Angeles.
Wilkie, Laurie A. and Paul Farnsworth
1992 National Register Testing at Oakley Plantation (16WF34)
West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, 1991. Report on file,
Division of Archaeology, Baton Rouge. 1993 National Register Testing
at Oakley Plantation (16WF34) West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana,
1992. Report on file, Division of Archaeology, Baton Rouge.
1937 Black Boy. Harper and Row, Publishers, New York.
Notes From The Caribbean
Submitted by Roderick Ebanks
Matthew Reeves, a graduate student from Syracuse University,
has since 1992 been looking for, without success, the Maroon settlement
of Juan deBolas. This year he is back in Jamaica working on a
Ph.D. dissertation entitled"Produce and Market -- A Comparative
Analysis of African-Jamaican Slave Accessibility to Market Goods."
This thesis is based on Hall and Mintz's work on the creation
and development of the Jamaican internal marketing system. The
study sets out to test the hypothesis that with a decrease in intensity
of the enslaved peoples involvement in agricultural production,
there would have been an increase in their ability to produce ground
provisions, and therefore their access to material goods through
the markets increased.
To test this, Reeves intends looking at material assemblages
excavated from slave settlements located on plantations of known
production regimes and scale within a common geographic region.
Dr. Kofi Agorsah, who was the first archeologist with the University of
the West Indies, Mona campus, has now moved on to Portland State.
He recently completed a three year period of excavations at the
Maroon settlement of Nanny Town, some 14 miles into the tropical
forest area of the John Crow Mountains in northeast Jamaica.
The preliminary results are extremely interesting. The site
can be divided into three phases, namely: Taino, Taino/Maroon and
Maroon/English. The results suggest that the Maroon oral traditions
as given by Ebanks in 1976 are inlarge measure correct. A preliminary
report has been published in the Archaeological Society of Jamaica's
newsletter 1993. The final report is eagerly awaited.
Roderick Ebanks, Technical Director of Archaeology at the Jamaica
National Heritage Trust, has finally completed his M.Phil. thesis
on the "History of Jamaican Ceramics 1655-1840." The
thesis is constructed in sucha way as to relate the ceramics of
this period with those of the preceding period, i.e. Taino and
Iberian, and the following period, i.e. post-1840. The research
objectives were three-fold and included:
- A definition of the red earthenware assemblage from two sites; the Old King's House of Spanish Town and the New Street site of Port Royal to include technic and stylistic data.
- To trace origins of the assemblage over time from possible sources to and in Jamaica.
- To investigate the assemblage for socio-cultural meaning.
A multi-disciplinary approach was used including petrographic
studies,oral history and archival research, and artifactual analysis
based in atypological exercise that included comparing the material
with that from other sites in Jamaica, in Europe and in West Africa.
The results are as follows:
- The red earthenware assemblage can be divided into four complexes including:
a. Circum Caribbean; imported from southern North America, i.e. Florida; Central American, possibly northern South America; and included native Indian and syncretic types, i.e. Indian and European.
b. West African-indigenised. No imported wares have yet been identified.
c. European-imported and indigenised mainly Iberian and English.
d. A syncretic tradition, created in Jamaica, that combined African and European technological and stylistic elements in such a way as to create an independent and new ceramic tradition.
- That the indigenised European and one of the West African sub-complexes were traceable to their points of origin.
- Through petrographic analysis it was found that the indigenised African complex was divided between two locations in Jamaica, Spanish Town and the Liguanea Plain. The indigenised English potters were located on the Liguanea Plain and the syncretic potters worked on the Liguanea Plain.
- Each of the three major indigenised complexes began operating in Jamaica between 1655 and 1700, peaking between 1750 and 1800, and continuing into the modern era.
- Each of these complexes participated in the internal marketing system with wares being traded as far away as Drax Hall (50 miles away) on the northwest coast, Savanna la Mar (105 miles away) on the southwest coast, and Morant Bay (40 miles) on the southeast coast.
- The earthenware industry exhibits inter and intra-complex differentiation. The African-Jamaican complex has to be viewed from the African perspective or differentiation in this complex is not easily recognized. One specific point of differentiation is the role of women in the African-Jamaican economy and society.
Manassas Industrial School
Submitted by John Sprinkle
Recently, archaeologists from the Washington, D.C. office of
Louis Bergerand Associates, Inc. (LBA) completed a limited archaeological
investigation at the site of the Manassas Industrial school for
Colored Youth in Manassas,Virginia. Established as a residential
school in the 1890s by Jennie Dean,a charismatic ex-slave who
believed in the value of vocational education for black youth,
the original buildings were demolished in the early 1960s after
the construction of a new school building.
Funded by the City of Manassas and the Manassas Museum, the
project was designed to locate the foundations of the three principal
structures at the school: Howland Hall, Hackley Hall and the Carnegie
Building. LBA useda backhoe to cut two-foot wide trenches in a
cruciform pattern across thesuspected location of the buildings.
Manassas plans to re-establish thefoundation outlines of these
buildings as part of a memorial park for theschool, its former
students and founder. As part of this project, LBA will prepare
a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the property.
The Manassas Industrial School, 44PW505, was recorded by archaeologist Kay
McCarron, who had previously conducted limited survey and excavations at
the site of one school building known as Charter Cottage in advance
ofnew road construction near the site. These excavations demonstrated
the information potential of the archaeological record at this
residential schoolwith regard to standards of living during the
late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For further information
about the Manassas Industrial School Memorial project contact:
Douglas K. Harvey, Museum Director, the Manassas Museum, P.O. Box
560, Manassas, Virginia, 22110.
Stanton Family Cemetery
Submitted by Renee Ingram
In 1853, the Stanton family of Buckingham County, Virginia,
headed by Nancy and Daniel Stanton, purchased 46.5 acres of land,
becoming one ofthe few free black landholders in the region. Nancy
Stanton, who purchased the original holdings on which the cemetery
is located, became the first known individual interred in the Stanton
Family Cemetery when she died onOctober 6, 1853.
The Stanton Family, traced as free blacks as early as 1820,
was representative of the rural free black community of Buckingham
County and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Family members included
farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, boatmen,soldiers and quarrymen.
The cemetery is a rare example of its kind. It was established,
not on a plantation, but by free blacks on their own land. The
substantial size of the cemetery reflects the economic and social
standing of the Stanton family in the county. It is a rare resource
that reveals important information about rural burial practices,
local cemetery design, and a significant cultural group about which
little is known.
The Stanton Family Cemetery symbolizes the notable contributions
made by free African Americans in Buckingham County and the region.
The cemetery has been recently listed on the National Register
of Historic Places andthe Virginia Landmarks Register.
Williamsburg Field School
The Department of Archeological Research at Colonial Williamsburg,
inconjunction with the Anthropology and History Departments of
the Collegeof William and Mary, will offer a special field school
in African-American archaeology on the site of the Rich Neck slave
quarter in Williamsburg, Virginia. Students may enroll for six
credit hours at the undergraduate or graduate level. Permission
of the instructor, Dr. Marley R. Brown III, is required. The cost
of each five week session will be $145.00 per credit hour for in-state
students, and $390.00 per credit for out-of-state students. Campus
housing is available at a cost of approximately $450.00 per semester, and
reading material is approximately $45.00. Scholarships are available. Registration
will be accepted after May 2, 1994. Please address inquiries to
Ms. Ywone Edwards, Coordinator of African-American Archaeology,
Department of Archaeological Research, ATTN: Field School 1994,
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, P.O. Box 1776, Williamsburg,
Virginia, 23187-1776; 804 220-7328.
Old Sturbridge Village Field School
Investigate the changing lives of the African-American, Native
American, Yankee and Irish residents of the Leadmine neighborhood
of Sturbridge, Massachusetts during the first half of the nineteenth
century. Join the 1994 Field Schoolteam as it explores the material
history of this ethnically diverse community.
The Field School is directed by David Simmons, Old Sturbridge
Village Senior Archaeologist, and Ed Hood, Research Historian with
the participation of Jack Larkin, the museum's Director of Research,
Collections and Library. Application deadline is May 15, 1994 and
participation is limited to 20 students. A scholarship is available
to support minority student participation. The basic program fee
is $995.00 and eight semester hours of credit are being offered
through Tufts University for an additional fee of $465.00. Direct
inquiries to Ed Hood, Archaeology Field School, Old Sturbridge
Village, Sturbridge, Mass., 01566; 508 347-3362.
Letter from the Editor:
This is positively the last issue you will receive if your
address sticker says "unpaid". If it says, "1994",
you are good forthe rest of the year. I know, I know, you've heard
that before. I must sound like Time magazine or even worse, Reader's
Digest; but I really mean it. Please send in your $5.00 so you
can get the June issue. If you have something for the next issue
of the Newsletter, please get it in before June 15. Thanks. And
remember, you can now submit photographs, and I'll accept anything
ona 3.5 inch diskette.
This issue just sort of happened, as I had planned on only
having two issues this year. However, the quantity of material
you submitted and the need to get out announcements about field
schools before the end of the school year, made it imperative that
I get out an issue by April. If your submittals keep pace, I will
try to get out three issues a year from now on.
Included with this issue is a questionnaire prepared by Linda
Stine and Melanie Capak about beads, and particularly blue beads,
on African-Americansites. People with African experience may wish
to address this subject evenif they have not worked on an African-American
site. Please take a few minutes and complete the questionaire.
One of the articles in this issue addresses whether or not
non-African Americans can or should conduct archaeology on African-American
sites. Does anyone have any thoughts along those lines?
The Newsletter has received several newspaper and magazine
articles from readers who would like to pass along news that may
be of interest to readers in other areas of the country. These
are too long to be published in their entirety, so I have tried
to summarize them and provide pertinent excerpts. Interested readers
can contact the original newspaper or magazine, who would undoubtedly
be delighted to provide the entire article. If you have an article that
you feel would benefit other readers, send it along, making sure
to include the name and date of the publication.
Task Force To Advise National Trust on Archaeology Issues
(Historic Preservation News, Dec. 1993-Jan. 1994)
Submitted by Barbara Rowan
Katherine Ann Slick has been named to head a newly created
task force to make recommendations on archaeological issues to
the National Trust,and on the role the Trust should play with
respect to archeology. As the Trust has become more involved in
archeological issues at its various properties, archaeology related
litigation, advocacy, and actual field support have become more
important, particularly out west. The task force will make its report
to the board of trustees by May, 1994. For further information,
write to Ms. Slick in care of the National Trust Archaeology Task
Force, 1785 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Re-examining a Past Built on Slavery
(Atlanta Journal/Atlanta Constitution, Mar 13, 1994)
Noting that Charleston likes to call itself "America's most historic city", the article goes on to note that Charleston has overlooked "some of the last tangible links to the country's most anguished period -- the relics of slavery." The search for antiquities and accuracy is digging up controversy as well as apathy in South Carolina. . . . The debate transcends racial lines. Some blacks don't want to talk about the past, and some whites don't want to hear about it. . . . Many South Carolinians and the swarms of visitors Charleston attracts have never noticed what's lacking, because the history has been lost for so long. . . . `Most tourists in Charleston don't hear anything about black history.' said Liz Alston, the head of a state council established last fall to identify black historical sites. . . . `A lot of slave history is already lost. What was saved relates to the life of the planter,' said Elaine Nichols, curator of black culture at the South Carolina State Museum.
Last fall, for $2 million, the Historic Charleston Foundation acquired the McLeod Plantation, 42 acres within the city limits that were threatened by development. The plantation includes an 1852 house and its seven cabins. It is the last complete sea-island-cotton plantation in the country, . . . and could give a truer picture of the antebellum south. McLeod reflects the smaller, common plantation, where the owner worked alongside the slaves, rather than the few great estates.
Even with the McLeod acquisition, black Charlestonians said the restored, tourist-attraction plantations largely neglect them. One location promises `the total plantation experience' in its ads. `They might tell you that blacks used to shine the brass doorknobs,' said Al Miller, who has conducted black-oriented tours of Charleston for seven years. `Blacks built almost all the buildings in Charleston, but you don't hear that.'
Leland Ferguson of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, an authority on early black American culture, has excavated plantation sites in several states. He has tied slave pottery, known as Colono Ware, and religious practices to specific spots in West Africa.
Blacks Protest Excavation Team
(The Washington Post, Jan. 18, 1994)
Submitted by Esther White
The University of Virginia's plans to allow white archaeologists to excavate property owned by a free black family in the 1830s are being criticized by leading black specialists and local residents for not involving enough blacks.
Critics say excavation of land owned by the Fosters, whose graves were unearthed by a bulldozer last summer as the university prepared a parking lot site, should be led by a qualified black anthropologist.
Drake Patten, a doctoral candidate and archaeologist who is white, hopes to involve students in a field study of the Foster property this summer. She said she anticipated, but is saddened by, the negative reaction.
Some university officials view the field study and Patten's proposed class which would be open to students and interested local residents, as a way to patch up frayed relations between the school and Charlottesville blacks who have been leery of university expansion into one of their neighborhoods.
The field study class would focus on basic archaeology, identification and research of the Foster family and property, which was purchased in 1833 by family matriarch Catherine Foster. Researchers have agreed not to disturb the 12 graves uncovered on the one-acre site during clearing of university-owned land across the street from the bustling heart of the campus.
Although acknowledging that there are few blacks in the field of archaeology, Michael L. Blakey, director of the African burial ground project at Howard University, said he has misgivings about the proposed field study and the so-far all-white team that would conduct it.
"The study", he said, "needs an African-American perspective."
"It sounds like a superficial offering," said Blakey, who is doing research on remains from a burial ground discovered in New York in 1991. "They need a broader historic context to understand the woman and her family."
Barbara Walker, president of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Association in Washington, agreed that the project needs to have more black participation.
"It would be good if an African American did it because he or she could bring to the project a little better knowledge. A lot of it comes from our traditions that are not written down," Walker said.
Jeffery Hantman, head of the university's anthropology department, said Patten is "uniquely qualified" to head the dig, although he said he has sought comment from several black faculty members in other aspects of the project. Blacks were first admitted to the school as students in 1970.
Patten holds two master's degrees, has worked as an artifact researcher at Monticello and specializes in African-American history.
Hantman said historians so far have been unsuccessful in tracking down descendants of Catherine Foster, a mulatto woman who apparently worked at the university as a seamstress or laundress. Researchers believe the Foster property lies in what may have been a neighborhood of skilled free black workers, but they say little is known about the pre-Civil War community.
Local residents, however, have embraced the Fosters as heroes and symbols of defiance toward the university.
"The community will be upset over the appearance of an all-white dig," said Charlottesville genealogist David Smith, who is black and serves on the university's task force for the site. "Appearances do count, and the best appearances are those grounded in truth."
Smith, who has worked closely with Patten, urged greater minority involvement in the project, saying, "It is inconceivable to me that a project like this, which has so much interest, would fail to have full black participation."
Including black students and faculty members in the project is a "significant concern," said Hantman, who plans to recruit students from the university's Black Student Alliance and advertise the class at other colleges to attract wider participation.
Black Student Alliance leader Damion Samuels, an anthropology minor who is considering enrolling in the summer field class, said the study is a step toward bridging rifts between the university and local residents.
"The university has a notorious history when dealing with black people," Samuels said. "Historically, there's been a great deal of tension between the university and the Charlottesville community, particularly when it comes to ownership of property. I think people want to see some old wrongs righted."
The university's Foster task force, which sought community comment on the site in a series of hearings, including one at a Baptist church downtown, has tried to assuage residents' concerns about the future of the family's land.
"For a long time, the university was regarded by many people, especially in the black community in Charlottesville, as kind of having a plantation mentality and an exclusive atmosphere," said university spokeswoman Louise Dudley, who also sits on the panel. "There is a good chance for to work together."
Once the site is excavated and research is complete, the task force will consider asking the university to erect a monument to the Foster family on the site. The remains of family members could be moved to a local cemetery, task force members said.
The Thesis Connection
The Newsletter has received inquiries from students (some
telephoned, some not) about thesis topics in African-American archaeology.
One of these letters is included below. Often students interested
in African-American archaeology have few contacts in the "community".
After the SHA workshop this year, it became clear that the "community"
had lots of good ideas about what needs to be done in the field
and what students should be doing, but often had no students with
whom to work. In this and future issues of the Newsletter, requests
for thesis topics and requests for students looking for thesis
topics will be presented as an ongoing service. If you are a student
or know a student searching for a thesis topic, or if you have
a problem that could be addressed by concerted thesis research, please
send your request to the Newsletter along with your address and
To the Editor:
I am a first year, graduate student in the archaeology program
at Ball State University. I also subscribe to the newsletter, AFRICAN-AMERICAN
ARCHAEOLOGY [smart move, son. ed.]. My department chairman informed
me that I need to be looking into possible summer fieldwork for
my Master's thesis.
I would like to focus in the area of African-American archaeology.
So, I am writing you asking for advice. I would appreciate it if
you could put me in contact with anyone searching for graduate
students to help with fieldwork. Even if you are not aware of anyone,
it would still be helpful if you could pass along to me possible
research topics applicable to a thesis.
I will gladly furnish a resume, references, and any additional
information if asked. I am sure you have a hectic schedule, so
any response would be greatly appreciated [polite, too. ed.]. Good
luck with future research,and I hope to hear from you soon.
For those of you that have already received calls or
letters from Bill, I probably should have warned you, sorry. I
hope someone was able to help him out.
1992 African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South. The
University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
This work by University of Georgia landscape architect, Richard
Westmacott, presents the results of several years of study of African-American
Gardens and Yards primarily in piedmont Georgia and Alabama. It
is of special interest to archeologists for its many plans of gardens,
yards and outbuildings, and for its accompanying descriptions of
the use of space by African Americans from the gardeners themselves.
It is really an eye-opening piece of research and deserves to be
on the bookshelf of any archaeologist with an interest in African-American
archeology. It is also a well-spring of comparative data for studies
of rural white occupations, urban African-American sites, and low
country plantation studies. Get it.
Electronic version compiled by Thomas
R. Wheaton, New South Associates, Inc.
©2005 African Diaspora Archaeology Network
Please send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: April 16, 2005