Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network
Number 14, Summer 1995Thomas R. Wheaton, Editor
10th Congress of the Pan-African Association
Submitted by Eugenia Herbert, Mount Holyoke College
The first meeting of the Pan-African Association for Prehistory
and Related Studies in twelve years, the last having been held
in Jos, Nigeria in 1983,was held in Harare Zimbabwe from June
19 to 23, 1995. The Congress tookplace at the University of Zimbabwe
and was organized largely by members of the History Department,
ably headed by Prof. Gilbert Pwiti as Organizing Secretary. Almost
300 scholars attended, most presenting papers. All wereimpressed
by the smoothness of the operation and how well virtually allthe
details were planned -- especially since the organizers had
to contend with a gathering of local officials that preempted some
of the meeting spacesand vied for resources.
After opening ceremonies, attended among others by the Foreign
Minister-cum-historian Stan Mudenge, there was a plenary session
devoted to Great Zimbabwe. For the rest of the four and a half
days, four sessions ran concurrently except for a mid-week break
in order to visit the Domboshawa cave paintings. Sessions were
divided among eighteen different themes:
- Hominid Evolution
- Palaeoenvironmental Studies
- Rock Art
- Early Food Production
- Information Technology
- Cultural Resource Management
- Early Iron Working Communities
- Late Iron Working Communities
- Development of Complexity
- Historical Archaeology
- Interpretation of Culture Change
- Early Hominid Land Use
- Terminology in African Prehistory
- Zimbabwean Archaeology
Zimbabwe Publishing House, in concert with the British Museum
Press, was able to time the publication of Peter Garlake's The
Hunter's Vision: The Prehistoric Art of Zimbabwe to coincide with
Obviously the distinctions implied by the themes of the sessions
weretenuous and arbitrary, but they may have been intended to
highlight methodological debates, especially those within archaeology,
as well as to impose some order on the proceedings. (I should note
at the outset that I confined myself to sessions dealing with post-Stone
Aside from the interesting range of the research itself, some
of the most stimulating issues concerned the meaning of sites to
indigenous peoples themselves and the use of later ethnographic
evidence to interpret archaeological sites. For example, the earthworks
at Bigo in Uganda had no significance for the local people when
they were first studied by European archaeologists but have now
come to be important ritual centers. Similarly, cave painting sites
such as Domboshava are currently embroiled in a tug of war between Historical
Monuments officials and tourists on the one hand, and local populations that
see them as centers for rain making ceremonies on the other.
Tom Huffman's argument that contemporary, or at least recent,
Venda culture may be used to explicate the spatial arrangements,
political relationships, and other aspects of Great Zimbabwe continue
to spark a great deal of controversy. Some archaeologists deny
that Great Zimbabwe and its neighbors exhibited as much uniformity
as Huffman's model claims, while others are suspicious of the degree
of continuity Huffman finds in Venda. His book should be out at
the end of 1995, detailing his arguments and supporting evidence
morethan has been possible in articles and in the brief presentation
to the Congress.
At the same time Merrick Posnansky's presentation of 25 years
of archaeological work at Hani in northern Ghana brilliantly demonstrated
the value of such long-term research. Here, long acquaintance with
the village and its people not only permitted judicious use of
oral tradition in reconstructing the past but also made the researchers
aware of how much their own presence has affected ways of organizing
space over time, not least in the widespread adoption of hedges
by individual compounds.
There were a number of presentations about metalworking, some
unfortunately scheduled at the same time. Nic David's work on Sukur
now allows him and his colleagues to propose unusually precise
estimates for iron production and charcoal consumption over the
past century and a half, and to detail the symbiosis of montagnard
metallurgists, farmers of the plain, and traders. David has, incidentally,
just completed a film on African iron working entitled Black Hephaistos.
It was made in collaboration with David Killick and showswhat
can be determined by laboratory analysis -- a valuable adjunct
toarchaeology and the history of African technology. The film
is available from the University of Calgary.
This was a superb opportunity for scholars to engage each other,
and especially enjoyable to continue the discussions after the
Congress properduring the excursions. Only francophones might
complain about the overwhelmingly anglophone character of the meetings -- it
must have been hard to deal with not simply the fact that the overwhelming
majority of communications were in English, but that the English
came in so many accents! And, as aspeaker at one reception remarked,
one can hope that future congresses will see a more even match
of African and Euro-American participants.
(dis) Owning The Emperor's Robe
Submitted by Abdul-Karim Mustapha, University of Maryland at College ParkEverybody knows I been here ever since there's been
ahere even helped dig the first foundation.Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1947.
The recent upsurge of sites across the country and the extraordinary visibility
(both public and academic) of African-American Archaeology incites cause
for celebration and suspicion. This year's SHA provided a desperately needed
forum for queries to be heard, speculations to be made, theories to
be imagined, and prospects to be declared. However, I came away
with the feeling that there was no conversation.
The first words of our supposed conversation were uttered over
thirty years ago, just at the height of the Black Arts Movement
and many other efforts to rearrange the boundaries of intellectual
objectivity and social solidarity. During those years the point
of the archaeological conversationwas to find things and connect
them to a larger national and social conversation about the roots
and contributions of Black America. The Plantation, the immediate
domain of slave culture, quickly became the site of many investigations and
the context for the flow of culture.
Although it is not often acknowledged, the spirit of that conversation grew
out of Melville Herskovits work, for example Myth Of The Negro
Past. And the crux of the influence was to restore and maintain
racial dignity while (dis)owning the robe of cultural inferiority.
Since then, many people have raised questions about what other
people ate, what they built, how they built and used things, and
the greater connections to Africa.
Somewhere between thirty years ago and 1985, we lost some sense
of the point of the conversation. It was Theresa Singleton who
restored the value and the need for a point to the conversation.
She more or less said that an archaeologically informed study of
the African-American past should include the diaspora and have
multiple perspectives. African America was by and large not only
an influence of a truncated colonial encounter, but a representation of
the creative efforts to sustain a moral and coherent universe
that was still entrenched in some sense of Africa.
Today, ten years later, we have all this behind us and Leland
Ferguson to think about. The point, I think, he introduced to the
conversation was to say let us talk about how America was and continues
to be "Afro-canized." The point is let us not only look
at how African peoples have survived the Americas, but where, when,
what and how Anglo-Americans were "Afro-canized".
Shamelessly, though, the conversation is very dry. We are still
caught up in the culture of poverty, conspicuous consumption and
similar ill-informed interpretations. For now, the point of the
conversation is can we see clearly how the emperor's robe was (dis)owned,
thus leaving him naked. It may bethat we have to ask, "Why
isn't Mount Vernon or Monticello a piece of African American material
culture?"; After all, "we helped dig the first foundation."
The 1995 African-American Cross Cultural Workshop
Submitted by Esther White, Mount Vernon
During the Society for Historical Archaeology's annual meeting
in Washington, DC January 1995, the African-American Cross-Cultural
Workshop focused on colonoware pottery. Planned as an interactive,
hands-on meeting, archaeologists brought examples of colonoware
from over 50 sites in the U.S., Caribbean,and Africa.
Presenters completed fact sheets about their collections prior
to theworkshop. These sheets detail 54 sites, recording the history,
excavation methodology, and artifacts recovered. Detailed descriptions
of the colonoware focusing on the vessel forms, paste, temper,
and characteristics of the assemblages are also presented. References,
collection locations, and people to contact about the assemblages
are also listed. These fact sheets arebound and available free
of charge, by contacting Esther White, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association,
Mount Vernon, VA 22121.
A videotape of the workshop, specifically focusing on the collections, is
currently being edited. The videotape includes archaeologists
discussing the characteristics of their colonoware and many closeups
of the vessels. It also documents the workshop's summaries about
the three regions represented: Upper South, Lower South, and Africa
and the Caribbean. These summaries provide a region-specific overview
of the broad characteristics seen in colonowares. Copies of the
videotape will be available this fall. To reservea copy please
write Esther White, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Mount Vernon,
The 1996 African-American Cross Cultural Workshop
Submitted by Carol McDavid, firstname.lastname@example.org
This year's workshop topic will relate to one of the conference
themes this year, "Forging Partnerships in Outreach and Education",
and will explore, in a conversational, networking fashion how people
doing research on African-American sites can involve interested
African-American communities in their work -- what needs to be
done, how to do it, whom to contact,what kinds of information
people want to know, etc. There will be an informal panel, but
no formal papers.
This year, the workshop is being organized by McDavid, much
as last year's was organized by Esther White and Barbara Heath.
With my duties as Executive Director of the new American Cultural
Resources Association, I just do not have time to run it this year.
I would like to thank Esther and Barbara and all of those who participated
in this year's workshop for an exciting and worthwhile time. I
know that I learned a lot, and I look forward to Carol McDavid's
workshop next year.
Next year's workshop grew out of discussions that David Babson,
Carol and I had at last year's SHA conference where there were
an extraordinary number of African Americans represented in the
audiences and behind the podium. This is, I hope, a trend, and
one that all of us welcome and hopewill continue. Unfortunately,
there was virtually no integration within the research itself.
White folks did their thing, and black folks did theirs,and then
they came to SHA to talk at each other.
I felt that we should start talking to each other before SHA,
and since David and Carol have been conducting "'integrated'"
research so to speak, they seemed like logical people to organize
something for next year. David has since organized a session along
these lines, and Carol will lead the 1996 workshop. I encourage
you all to contact them and offer your time and talents.
Another part of our discussions revolved around developing
racially and disciplinarily mixed research teams, a black historical
archaeologist and a white historian, or a white historical archaeologist
with a black physical anthropologist, for example. The research
topic could be relatively focused, an abandoned house site in a
city, a slave kitchen on a plantation, a white tenant farmer's
house, etc. In fact, the research topic would be secondary. The
primary and most interesting focus would be how well the research
teamworked together, what they learned about the others' mindset
and approach, how what they learned influenced their ideas and
interpretations of what was found, what they would do differently
next time, etc., etc. The results of a series of such small scale
projects (not more than a few weekends on a site) would then be
presented at a session at SHA with formal papers, two from each
project (in "black and white", so to speak). The workshop
that year would be a panel discussion with the team participants. The
workshop should be held after the papers have been presented,
rather than early in the conference as has been the case in the
past, to provide fuel for what should be a very lively discussion.
If this sounds worthwhile to you, please speak up.
Carol McDavid would like to obtain a copy of the Newsletter's
mailing list. Since one of the purposes of the Newsletter is to
foster communication among its subscribers, the African-American
Archaeology Network, this seems like a reasonable thing to do.
However, I am aware that some people may prefer not to give out
their names and addresses, ergo this request. In the next issue
I will print a list of members and their addresses and phone numbers.
If you do not wish to be included on this list, please let me
know before November 15, otherwise I will include your name.
You may have noticed that this issue is a little short. I can
only publish what I receive. Please consider sending in a paragraph
or two about what you are up to or your response to the Newsletter
and the articles printed in it.
Chuck Orser has resigned as a regional editor. He is edging
out of African-American Archaeology to devote more time to his
research interests in Ireland. Todd Guenther is also no longer
an editor. I would appreciate volunteers from the midwest, the
west and the far west to replace them. The job really boils down
to making a few phone calls two or three times a year to track
down an article or two, and then getting it to me (preferably on
diskette). AND you get your name in the Newsletter with all the
prestige and influence that implies!
Section 106 and African-American Archaeology
In the last issue, Section 106 and the President's Advisory
Council on Historic Preservation -- the impetus for much of the
African-American Archaeology being conducted today -- was in
deep trouble in the House. Through no less than a small miracle,
Rep. Sanders from Vermont proposed an amendment on the floor of
the House at the very last minute reinstating and fully funding
the Council. For lots of reasons, and few having to do with historic
preservation, his amendment passed 267 to 130, a virtual landslide. We
need to keep up the momentum in the Senate. Please write and call
your Senators and express your support for the Council at its requested
funding level of $3.01 million. Voting will take place over the
next few weeks. Every call and letter counts. If you would like
more information on who to contact and how, please surf on over
to http://www.mindspring.com/~wheaton/ACRA.html, or contact Tom
Wheaton at email@example.com
News From Mount Vernon,
Submitted by Esther White, Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon will open a new exhibit in July focusing on archaeology and
restoration. Highlighting the archaeology section are artifacts
from two recently excavated sites: the House for Families slave
quarter; and a large kitchen midden associated with the Washington
household. The House for Families served as housing for approximately
sixty slaves working as house servants and craftspeople. During
the 1980s a root cellar filled from 1758-1793 was excavated. Among
the artifacts on display from the root cellar are tablewares, buttons,
buckles, and a raccoon baculum or penis bone incised at one end.
A deposit of kitchen trash deposited from c. 1760 and 1775
was excavated south of the Mansion. The artifacts recovered from
this site are associated with the Washington family and their guests.
Toys, sewing implements, a chamber pot, and furniture hardware
are among the artifacts displayed.
By comparing the artifacts from these two sites visitors will
see how archaeologists draw conclusions about diet and daily life from
deposits of trash. An interactive section of the exhibit encourages
people to think about the differences in eighteenth- and twentieth-century
trash disposal, and that one person's trash is an archaeologist's
treasure. A final section illustrates the history of archaeology
at Mount Vernon from the 1930s until the 1990s.
Mount Vernon is located 12 miles south of Washington, DC and
is open every day of the year.
Slave life at Mount Vernon is the topic of a new tour presented
four times a day at the historic house. In 1799, 316 slaves lived
and worked the 8,000 acre plantation on the Potomac River. Based
on documentary and archaeological information, the 45 minute walking
tour focuses on the contributions and daily experiences of African-American
individuals and families.
The tour explores several themes including family life, diet,
labor and rebellion. These topics are presented through case studies
of several Mount Vernon slaves. Hercules cooked gourmet meals for
Washington's family, traveling to Philadelphia to work in the presidential
household. Although he often earned $200.00 a year selling the
slops from the president's kitchen, Hercules ran away, finding
none of his privileges equal to the lure of freedom. Charlotte, a
strong willed widow is also featured. She threatened to take her
complaints against the overseer to the highest level of management,
An abundance of documentary information for the tour has been
collectedfrom Washington's writings. Because he was absent from
his home for so much of his life, Washington conducted much of
the running of Mount Vernon through written correspondence with
managers. These letters, diaries, farm reports,and two censuses
of the slave population, form what is believed to he the country's
most complete historical documentation of slave life.
Archaeological excavations at the House for Families, a quarter
housing slaves from c.1758 to 1793, augment the documentary evidence.
The artifacts, found in a filled root cellar, provide the tour
with insights about diet, personal possessions, and leisure pursuits.
"Archaeological information tells us the slaves supplemented
their daily rations with hunting, fishing, and produce, probably
grown in their own gardens. We have incorporated this into the
tour so the result is a composite of documentary information with the
archaeological findings" says Dennis Pogue, one of the tour
The tour is presented four times a day at 10, 12, 2, and 4.
North East Popular Culture Association
October 6-7, 1995
Worcester Polytechnical Institute
For information contact: Peter Holloran, NECPA
Treasurer, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, MA
02167, 617 731 7066, firstname.lastname@example.org
New England Historical Association
October 28, 1995
Saint Anselm College
For information contact: Peter Holloran, Executive
Secretary, NEHA, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill,
MA 02167, 617 731 7066, email@example.com
At the Virginia Academy of Science
annual meeting held in Lexington, Virginia, during May, 1995, the
Archaeology Section included a session on African-American topics.
The papers presented included:
"One Can Not Call Them By The Name Of Houses": The
Search For George Washington's Union Farm Slave Quarter's
Curtis Breckenridge, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
Hitting The Nail On The Head: Nails And Their Meaning On
A Slave Site
Michael A. Strutt, Jefferson's Poplar Forest.
Relocating The Foundations Of Jennie Dean's Vision: Archaeological Investigations
At The Manassas Industrial School, 44PW505
John H. Sprinkic, Jr., Louis Berger and Associates, Inc.
Observation, Participation, Education: Working To Expand
The Relevance of African-American Sites
Anna S. Agbe Davies, Department of Archaeological Research, The Colonial Williamsburg
The Isaac 11. Burrell Pharmacy Site (44Rn256): An African-American Drugstore
1897-1917/18, City Of Roanoke, Virginia
Michael F. Barber and Michael B. Barber Preservation Technologies, Inc.
Analysis Of Recovered Faunal Remains From The African-American
Owned Burrell Pharmacy Site (44Rn256), City Of Roanoke, Virginia
Michael B. Barber Preservation Technologies, Inc.
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