Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network
Number 16, Spring-Summer 1996Thomas R. Wheaton, Editor
Notes On West African Crossbow Technology
Submitted by Donald B. Ball, Louisville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
This brief paper will examine the origin, history, and multi-cultural sources
of diffusion of this ancient weapon to the southeastern United
States. Though long classified as obsolete, two distinct forms
of the crossbow (orarbalest) continued to survive as examples
of traditional material culture in isolated areas of this region
until the twentieth century. As will be discussed, certain design
details of one of these forms may have been derived from or influenced
by technology from West Africa. It is emphasized that the body
of available literature concerning traditional crossbows as they occur
in both this country and in portions of west-central Africa is
exceptionally limited. Hence, it should be understood that the
present comments, and the conclusions drawn therefrom, are tentative
in nature. They are presented as working hypotheses based upon
available information to encourage other researchers to seek out
additional documentation concerning, and extant examples of, these
In its most elemental form, the crossbow has been described
as ". . . a projectile weapon equipped with a bow, but having
in addition a stock setat right angles to the bow, and a string-catch
which holds the bow stringin a drawn position until the weapon
is shot" (Wilbur 1937:427). Though popularly associated with
the European Middle Ages, the crossbow possesses great antiquity.
Believed to have originated in China, the crossbow was already
a standard infantry weapon in that nation's military forces at
least as early as the fourth century B.C. (Wilbur 1937:428-429).
Evidence places the arrival of this implement in the ancient Mediterranean
world (Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.) during the fourth and fifth centuries
A.D. (Wilbur 1937:430,437) and western Europe by the end of the
tenth century (White 1962:35). Despite their awkward attributes
and relatively slow rate of fire, crossbows had two distinct logistical
advantages over the use of firearms: they were much less prone
to malfunction in wet, rainy conditions and (of particular note)
they required neither gunpowder nor lead, materials which were
expensive and could not be readily produced. Though these ancient
weapons coexisted in western Europe for almost three centuries
(ca. 1200-1500) with early forms of matchlock, wheellock, and snaphaunce
ignited blackpowder muskets, the crossbow as a military weapon
was effectively obsolete by 1550; it appears only rarely in later
accounts (Ball n.d.).
Scholars have long been aware of the occurrence of crossbows
in a rather limited area of west-central Africa. Thought to have
been introduced into the region by European merchantmen (variously
attributed to vessels from Holland, Denmark, and Portugal) possibly
as early as the fourteenth or fifteenth century (Balfour 1911 :642-643;
Wilbur I 937:436), this weapon has been documented among a number
of tribes and/or in various locales. Although likely an incomplete
listing of their distribution and tribal associations, the majority
of occurrences of this weapon in Africa are situated in the various
nations adjacent to the northeastern shore of the Gulf of Guinea along
the western coast of the continent. Specifically, these implements have
been recorded among: the Fan, Ba-fan, and Mpongwe of Gabon; the
Medjarnbi, Bakuele, Sanga, and Baya of the (French) Congo; the
Fanwe of Spanish (Equatorial) Guinea; unspecified peoples on the
island colony of Fernando Poo (Bioko Island, now part of Equatorial
Guinea); the Ba-Kwiri, Ya-unde, Bali, and Indiki of Cameroon; unspecified
groups in Nigeria; the Yoruba of Niger; and the Mandingo of Benin
(Balfour 1911; Powell-Cotton 1929). Significantly, this distributional
area has extensive overlap with the region historically known as
the slave coast which extended from the mouth of the Volta River (Ghana)
on the west to the mouth of the Niger River (Nigeria) on the east. This
region covers the coastal portions of the present day nations
of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and eastern Ghana. It is more than reasonable
to suggest that various tribesmen conversant with crossbow production
were taken captive, sold as slaves, and transported along with
their technology to the New World.
Though there are many variations of the specific features exhibited
by these implements from tribe to tribe in their area of distribution
in western Africa, the description of a crossbow collected in the
late 1800's amongthe Fan of Gabon is generally representative
of their typical configuration throughout the region. As described
by Balfour, this weapon:
. . . consists of a short and very rigid bow, 25 1/2 inches
across the arc, having a nearly rectangular section, stout at the
center, and tapering towards the ends. The bow is not straight
in the unstrung state, but has a set curve when free from strain.
It is set symmetrically through a rectangular hole near the fore
end of a slender wooden stock, measuring 50 3/4 inches in length,
and is fixed with wedges. This stock is split laterally throughout the
greater part of its length, so as to form an upper and lower limb,
whose hinder ends are free and can be forced apart, while they
remain united in the solid for [sic] end of the stock. When the
two limbs are brought together, a square-sectioned peg fixed to
the lower limb passes upward through the upper limb and completely
fills up a notch situated on the upper surface behind the bowstring.
The distance between the latter and the notch is 3 1/2 inches,
and this represents the full extent of the draw. When drawn or
set, the bowstring is held in the notch and the peg is forced
downwards, causing the two limbs to separate. By bringing these
together again, with a squeezing action, the peg as it rises in
the notch forces out the bowstring, and in this very simple manner
the release is effected (Balfour 1911:636-637).
The historical antecedents of this release system have been
traced to an archaic type of European crossbow which survived in
restricted areas of Norway until circa 1900 where it was utilized
for the killing of whales trapped in fjords (Balfour 1911:644-647).
Available information concerning the appearance and distribution
of crossbows in the southeastern United States suggests that these
relict items of material culture survived in a limited number of
areas as a result of a combination of two conditions: (1) isolation
-- either physical or social, and (2) "hardtimes", generally
definable as scarce resources, lack of ready cash, and limited
access to outside markets (Ball n.d.). Crossbows as examples of
traditional material culture within the region have been reported
among Anglos in southern Appalachia (Irwin 1983:103-108; Wigginton,
ed. 1980:178), and two Native American groups, the Rappahannock
of Virginia (Speck et al. 1946:10), and the Catawba of South Carolina
(Speck 1946:11). Examples reported in Appalachia have consistently
exhibited a "trigger" (string release) mechanism built
into the weapon's stock (Irwin 1983). Such a feature appears to
be an adaptation of the trigger and rotating nut system routinely incorporated
in crossbows of typical English/western European design (Payne-Gallwey 1976).
In marked contrast, the crossbows documented among east coast
Native American groups display a much simplified string-catch system
consisting merely of a notch cut into the upper surface of the
stock; release was accomplished by directly manipulating the string
with the thumb or fingers. It is this release system which appears
to have been influenced by and modified from technology derived
Unlike examples documented in southern Appalachia, crossbows
as recorded among Native American groups along the central portion
of the east coast displayed a much less complex string release
system. Based upon fieldwork conducted in the period 1941-1942,
Speck offered the following description of crossbows as they existed
at that time among the Rappahannock Indians near the community
of Indian Neck, King and Queen County, Virginia:
. . . though . . . relegated to the status of a toy, (the crossbow)
is part of the traditional store of knowledge. The stock is cut
from a rectangular piece of yellow pine, measuring about three
feet in length, about four inches high at the butt, tapering slightly
toward the front. A groove is cut along the top extending some
seventeen inches from the front. This serves as aguiding channel
for the arrows. A notch, seventeen inches from the rear of the
stock, holds the bow string when the bow is set. A square hole
of proper dimension to hold securely, by wedging if necessary,
the squared grip section of an ordinary bow is cut in the stock
about nine inches from the front. To operate, the crossbow is held
to the shoulder in the mannerof a gun. The bow string is placed
in the notch. By pushing the bow string from the notch with the
top of the thumb, this manual trigger releases the string and discharges
the arrow (Speck et al. 1946:10; emphasis added).
Crossbows of generally similar design were also recorded by
Speck among the Catawba Indians of York County, North Carolina,
during the course of fieldwork undertaken during the period 1913-1942.
These items, as they then existed, were described as:
The Catawba form of the object shows the simple hickory bow,
four and a half feet long, set in a notch on the underside of a
stock of yellow pine twenty eight inches long. A nail driven through
the stock holds the bow tightly in the notch. The bow string, now
of commercial cord, was formerly of rawhide, silkweed fibre, devil's
shoestring or mulberry roots soaked in water and twisted.
The latter is remembered to have been serviceable only when
it was kept wet to avoid its cracking through brittleness. The
string passes completely over the rear end of the stock where it
rests taut, in a notch. The arrow rests in a groove cut for two
thirds the distance of the upper side of thestock. The bow is
accordingly kept under tension until the arrow is ready to be discharged.
The arrow is of the ordinary form, cane or sourwood. When ready
to release it the shooter loosens the bowstring from the rear
notch, fits it to the nock of the arrow and shoots it as he would
with the simple bow, the nock of the arrow between the two fingers
which draw the string. The release is, to say the least, clumsy
and would require a dexterity which no one now has. Sam Blue is
shown in a pose with a specimen which he made and which he could
shoot to some distance, though without accuracy. None of the young
men on the reservation knew of the crossbow except by hearsay (Speck
1946: 11; emphasis added).
The introduction of the crossbow into the area now comprising
the southeastern United States may be attributed to three likely
sources: Spanish and English explorers and settlers, and slaves
imported into the southern colonies from West Africa (discussed
in greater detail in Ball n.d.). The absence of significant Spanish
cultural influence within present day North Carolina and Virginia, in
concert with the dissimilarity of these modified notch release
examples with typical English derived designs, would mitigate against
influence from those traditions. In support of possible African
derived influence, it maybe noted that by 1831 a number of the remaining
Native American groups in eastern Virginia, the homeland of the
Rappahannock, had ". . . become much mixed with negroes"
(Swanson 1946:175) and anthropologists and cultural geographers have
recorded a large number of colonial-era derived remnant mixed-blood populations
within the region scattered throughout Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia,
both Carolinas, eastern Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky (Berry 1963;
Gilbert 1949; Price 1953). Though the Catawba did not historically intermix
with the slave population of North Carolina, they were obviously situated
in a region known for its plantations and would reasonably have been
exposed to technological influences from the groups surrounding
Available descriptions of crossbows as they occur in western
Africa and among Native Americans in the southeastern United States
are sufficient to postulate the transmission of a type of this
weapon into the New World by slave populations and the adoption
of an altered form of that technology by various indigenous tribal
groups. Despite featuring a crude facsimile of the gunstocks used
by their Anglo neighbors, the utilization of a simplified notch
string release system (less the split stock and release peg exhibited in
west African examples) may be interpreted as a modification of
a much older design which had effectively been abandoned in Europe
by the time of the New World entrada yet continued to flourish
western Africa until at least the 1920s (Powell-Cotton 1929). Though
it is but a small example of transplanted technology, further research
on this topic may potentially further reveal a heretofore unheralded
example of African-American contributions to the cultural mosaic
of the material folk culture of the United States.
1911 The Origin of West African Crossbows. Annual Report
of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1910,
pp. 635-650. Washington.
Ball, Donald B.
n.d. Observations on Crossbows as Relict Material Folk Culture
Survivals in the Southeastern United States. Submitted to Tennessee
1963 Almost White. Collier Books/Collier Macmillan Ltd.,
New York and London.
Gilbert, William Harlen, Jr.
1949 Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States. In Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1948, pp. 407-438. Government Printing Office, Washington.
Irwin, John Rice
1983 Guns and Gunmaking Tools of Southern Appalachia (2nd
edition). Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania.
Payne-Gallwey, Sir Ralph
1976 The Crossbow: Medieval and Modern, Military and Sporting
-- Its Construction, History and Management (2nd edition) Holland
Press, London (Originally published 1903; reprinted 1958).
Powell-Cotton, Major P. G. H.
1929 Notes on Crossbows and Arrows from French Equatorial
Africa, Man 29 (Article 3): 1-3, London.
Price, Edward Thomas, Jr.
1953 A Geographic Analysis of White-Negro Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States. Annals of the Association
of American Geographers 43(2):138-155.
Speck, Frank G.
1946 Catawba Hunting, Trapping and Fishing.. Joint Publications
No. 2, Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia
Anthropological Society, Philadelphia.
Speck, Frank G., Royal B. Hassrick, and Edmund S. Carpenter
1946 Rappahannock Taking Devises: Traps, Hunting and Fishing.
Joint Publication No. 1, Museum of the University of Pennsylvania
and the Philadelphia Anthropological Society, Philadelphia.
Swanton, John R.
1946 The Indians of the Southeastern United States. Bureau
of American Ethnology Bulletin 137, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.
White, Lynn, Jr.
1962 Medieval Technology and Social Change. Oxford University
Press, New York.
Wigginton, Eliot (editor)
1980 Foxfire 6. Anchor Books, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden
City, New York.
Wilbur, C. Martin
1937 The History of the Crossbow, Illustrated from Specimens
in the United States National Museum. Annual Report of the Board
of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1936, pp. 427-438.
Conference Report: African Impact on the Material Culture
of the Americas
Submitted by John P. McCarthy, IMA Consulting, Inc.
On May 30 through June 2, 1996 the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem
State University, Old Salem, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative
Arts jointly sponsored an interdisciplinary conference, African
Impact on the Material Culture of the Americas, held at Winston-Salem
State University. The conference included 28 paper presentations
organized into eight panels, a discussion panel, field trips, and
a museum exhibit opening, all focused on the effects of African
culture on material culture in the New World. While not strictly
focused on African-American archaeological research, the conference
included several presentations by archaeologists, and most of the
presentations were of interest to anyone concerned with the material world
of African America. Conference attendees included professional
archaeologists, ethnographers, folklorists, historians, curators,
art historians, and educators and a large number of interested
lay people from the area.
The conference opened on the afternoon of May 30th with a bus
tour of African-American sites in Winston-Salem led by architectural
historian Langdon Oppermann. "Shot gun" houses and African-American
churches were featured. It was evident that "urban renewal"
programs and "code enforcement" problems with substandard
plumbing and electrical systems were ongoing issues affecting architectural
preservation in the Winston-Salem area, despite the area's successful
preservation of its early German-American history at Old Salem
and other nearby sites.
The paper presentations started on Thursday evening and continued
through Saturday afternoon. The sessions were entitled: Baskets,
Gourds, and Pottery: African Crafts in the Material Culture of
British Colonial America, Research Evaluation and Reconsiderations,
Impact and Contact: Archaeological Evidence of African Cultural
Presence in North America and the Caribbean, Belief Systems: Religion
and Ritual, The Diaspora and Cultural Impact in the Southeastern United
States, Burial and Funerary Practices, Textiles and Dress, and
Images and Symbolism. The introductory panel, Baskets, . . . provided
an overview of the field of African-American material culture studies
that was a fitting introduction to and a context for the more specialized
papers that followed over the next two days.
Archaeology was very well-represented at the conference. The
seven papers presented by archaeologists included: Pots at the
Crossroads: Research at the Crossroads, Leland Ferguson, Tobacco
Pipemaking in the 17th Century Chesapeake: African Inspirations
in a New World Art and Artifact, Matthew C. Emerson, Poplar Forest's
Schist Smoking Pipes, Hannah B. Canel, Stringing it all together:
Beads as Cultural Indicators in the Archaeological Record, Cheryl
J. LaRoche, The Material Culture of African-American Healing,
Ywonne D. Edwards, An African-Type Medicine Man and His Grave Goods:
A Burial from a Plantation Slave Cemetery in Barbados, West Indies,
Jerome S. Handler, and my own African-Influenced Burial Practices
in the Antebellum North: Material Evidence of African Identity
at the Cemeteries of the First African Baptist Church, Philadelphia,
John P. McCarthy.
The paper sessions were followed by an open and wide-ranging
discussion moderated by John Michael Vlach and Anthony Parent.
One theme that emerged was the need to disseminate the results
of research to descendent communities, and especially to youth.
In addition, the opening of the exhibit Forget-Me-Not: The
Art and Mystery of Memory Jugs on Friday evening at the Diggs Gallery
(featuring over 50 decorated jugs) and a closing barbecue supper
provided lots of time for informal discussion and visiting with
colleagues. A field trip to Milton North Carolina took place on
Sunday, but my travel arrangements did not allow me to take part.
Eighteen years have passed since the 1978 publication of John
Michael Vlach's path-breaking The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative
Arts, widely known in the field of African-American cultural studies
as the "slim red book". In the intervening years, the
study of African culture in North America, and of material culture
in particular, has broadened and matured considerably. While I
learned little that I felt was really "new" during the
conference, it was very exciting to see such a wide range of material
presented and discussed in a open, interdisciplinary setting.
The conference, in fact, had something of a festive atmosphere
that Matt Emerson characterized as "celebratory" during
one of our several conversations during the conference. The conference
was, in fact, an opportunity to review past achievements and consider
future directions for research and education, and in so doing,
it celebrated a real "coming of age" and legitimization of
the study of African culture in America.
For more detailed information on the conference, the possible
publication of the papers, and how to order the catalog of the
memory jug exhibit, contact Ms. Sally Gant, Director of Education,
Museum of Early Southern DecorativeArts, P. O. Box 10310, Winston-Salem,
NC, 27108, (910) 721 -7360.
Vlach, John Michael
1978 The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. The
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland.
A Note from the Editor.
I have received enquiries from some of you about not receiving
your spring issue of the Newsletter. I apologize. I have been somewhat
busy this past winter and spring and since I had so little to publish,
I decided to put off the spring issue and combine it with the summer
issue. In the meantime, my pleas for material have been answered.
I would also like to remind you that the deadline for the next
Newsletter is November 15. Please be generous and send me your
best stuff preferably by e-mail. The winter 1995 issue of the Newsletter
is finally online at http.//www.mindspring.com/-wheaton/NSA.htmLI
have received a number of enquiries from web surfers about the
newsletter (all positive), and recently ran a check to see how
many other web sites have links to my site where the newsletter
resides, there were over 25, including three in Germany and one
in Latin America. The links were nearly all because of the newsletter.
Tom Wheaton, Editor
African-American Spirituality and Ritual Practices 1997 African
American Archaeology Workshop
Submitted by Ywone Edwards, Colonial Williamsburg
As we become more conscious of the tenacious and complex nature
of the African heritage, we are encouraged to focus on questions
of ritual and spirituality in our representations of the archaeology
of African Americans and their implications for more rigorous and
culturally meaningful interpretation of our various sites. For
the 1997 Society for Historical Archaeology meetingin Corpus Christi,
the African-American Archaeology Workshop will serve as a forum
to discuss current ideas about African-American ritual and spirituality and
to examine material evidence that many of us are starting to treat
as relevant to ritual practice and belief systems. Archaeologists
and other interested individuals are invited to bring artifacts
or other evidence to a round table discussion on archaeological
data that might relate to the development of African-American ritual
and spirituality. To further encourage our examination of this
subject, a few key speakers will give brief case studies to pave
the way for the discussion.
African-American Newspapers and Periodicals
A Project of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin has received funding
for a five year period entitled African-American Newspapers and
Periodicals: A National Bibliography and Union List. The bibliography
will be based on the large collections at the Society, University
of Wisconsin System libraries, and specialized collections throughout
the nation. This project is expected to result in a two volume
work detailing 4,000 to 6,000 extant publications.
The bibliography will be edited by James P. Danky, Newspaper
and Periodicals Librarian at the Society, and compiled by Maureen
E. Hady who has been hired as African-American Newspapers and Periodicals
Bibliographer. Their goal is to make the bibliography as comprehensive
as possible, including newspapers and periodicals covering the
spectrum from general to specialized and from popular to scholarly.
It will be similar in format to Native American Periodicals and
Newspapers, 1828-1982. Any contributions you can make regarding
titles published in your area or held at your institution would
be greatly appreciated. For more information about the project
contact either Danky or Hady at 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin
53706-1488, 608-264-6532, or mex @ccmail.adp.wisc.edu.
Change of Regional Editor
Dennis Poque has informed us that he will be unable to continue
as a regional co-editor of the Newsletter. We are confident that
Esther Whitewill be able to carry on in his absence.
Garland Encyclopedia of African-American Associations seeks
scholars interested in contributing assigned entries. This single-volume
reference book will include local, regional, national and Pan-African
topics. If interested, contact Nina Mjagkij, History Department,
Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana 47306, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alliance for the Collection, Preservation and Dissemination
of West Virginia Black History
Once largely overlooked, the rich legacy of black West Virginians
is now being promoted by the Alliance, which seeks to integrate
the experiences of African Americans of the state more fully into
the scholarly literature and the curriculum of schools.
Since 1987, the group has sponsored an annual conference that
features presentations by scholars and lay persons. The proceedings
of the first two conferences are available at libraries throughout
The statewide Alliance publishes a newsletter and annual calendars
featuring significant dates and photographs. The organization also
has commissioned an annotated bibliography of relevant sources
on black West Virginia.
Membership is open to anyone interested in promoting the goals
of the Alliance. Won't you join us? The Drinko Academy, Marshall
University, 400 Hal Greer Boulevard, Huntington, West Virginia
George Ranch Historical Park
One hundred and thirty-one years ago a new era in our state's
history began when Texas slaves were officially given their freedom
on June 19, 1865. In recognition of this historic occasion, the
Fort Bend Museum Association and the George Ranch Historical Park
are proud to announce the third annual Juneteenth celebration to
be held on Saturday, June 15, on the grounds ofthe George Ranch.
This celebration will provide a unique perspective onthe history
of all African Americans with a particular emphasis on the contributions of
the Black cowboy in ranching heritage. For over 100 years Black
cowboys played a significant role in the operation of the Ranch
and by the 1890s and throughout the twentieth century clearly formed
the majority of working cowboys on the George Ranch and others
in the region. Our Juneteenth festival is designed to honor the
lives of these individuals and to appeal to all ages. For more
information contact the George Ranch Historical Park, P.O. Drawer
460, Richmond, Texas, 17406-0460, 713-342-6478.
Request for Information
Barbara Heath and Amber Bennett Moncure are working on a paper
on African-American yards for the 1997 meeting of the Society for
Historical Archaeology. We are interested in references to archaeological
reports or unpublished papers that describe projects where the
layout or use of yard spaces occupied by slaves or free blacks
formed a significant part of the research design and interpretation
of the site. Please send references to Barbara Heath, Thomas Jefferson's
Poplar Forest, P.O. Box 419, Forest, VA 24551 or to email@example.com. Thanks
Clifton Plantation New Providence, Bahamas
Submitted by Laurie A. Wilkie, UC Berkeley, and Paul Farnsworth, Louisiana State University
During the month of June, 1996, archaeologists from University
of California, Berkeley, Louisiana State University, and the Bahamian
Department of Archives, conducted archaeological excavations at
Clifton Plantation, on the western end of New Providence Island.
Clifton Plantation was owned by Loyalist William Wylly, who was
the Attorney General of the Bahamas from 1793-1821, when he was
transferred to St. Vincent. Fifteen structures, made of limestone block
masonry and mortar, dating to the Loyalist period, are still standing at
Clifton. The archaeological research team excavated a minimum
of five 1 meter square test units around each of the structures
to determine when they were built and what their function was.
A total of 105 test units were excavated during the field season.
At least eight of the structures are believed to be associated
with the enslaved African population of the plantation. The excavations
will serve to expand current knowledge regarding daily life on
a Loyalist plantation.
William Wylly, Clifton's owner, was a controversial figure
in his time. As Attorney General, he prosecuted several prominent
planters on charges of cruelty and under provisioning of slaves.
A convert to Methodism, Wylly advocated a strong paternalistic
approach to the management of enslaved people, and imposed laws
regarding morality, family life and religion on his slaves. In
addition, he claimed that he encouraged his slaves to learn to
read. Wylly's views and attitudes are well-known from newspapers,
Colonial Records and letters from his time. What is not known is
how closely Wylly followed his own public opinions in the context
of his own plantation. The research hopes to reveal how the enslaved
people on Clifton Plantation lived, and how their lives were or
were not impacted by their owner's public views. The most commonly
recovered artifacts from Clifton were animal bones, ceramics, glass,
and kaolin tobacco pipes. The majority of the artifacts recovered from
the site, including creamware and pearlware ceramics, and hand-blown glass,
date to the early nineteenth century, coinciding with Wylly's
ownership of the plantation. The preservation of animal bone from
Clifton was much better than on many Bahamian plantations. Historical
documents record the minimum amounts of rations that planters were
required to provide their enslaved populations. However, many enslaved
people supplemented their rations by growing their own produce,
catching fish, collecting shell fish, or raising their own farm
animals. Preliminary analysis suggests that conch, whelk and chlton
were the most popular shell fish, while snapper, jack, and grouper were
among the many fish species consumed.
In 1817, Wylly armed several of the slaves at Clifton to prevent
a messenger of the court from the House of Assembly from arresting
him. His action was perceived by many planters as a dangerous precedent,
bordering on treason. Wylly answered that he had not allowed his
slaves access to loaded weapons. A gun flint and an unfired musket
ball were recovered from one of the slave cabins, and suggest that
at some time, enslaved people did have access notonly to muskets,
but also to ammunition.
Another unusual find was a brass West Indian VI Regiment Military
button. The West Indian regiments, composed of free African and
Afro-Caribbean soldiers, defended much of the Caribbean, including
the Bahamas. Wylly had at least one non-commissioned officer stationed
at Clifton Plantation to protect the harbor from piracy or invasion,
and the button may be related to this individual.
The excavations were funded by the Government of the Bahamas,
the University of California, the Stahl Endowment for Archaeological
Research, and Louisiana State University.
Poplar Forest Quarter Site Update
Submitted by Barbara Heath, Jefferson's Poplar Forest
An earlier report on excavations and analysis of this site
appeared in this newsletter (winter 1994). This update summarizes
our findings to date.
Archaeologists at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's plantation
in Bedford County, Virginia, have recently completed excavations
at the site of a slave quarter and associated structures dating
from circa 1790-1812. The site is believed to represent the western
edge of a complex of buildings which served as the plantation's
core settlement until 1806, when Thomas Jefferson began construction
of an octagonal dwelling house some 650 feet to the southwest.
Staff archaeologists, field school students and volunteers
have been working on the site since the spring of 1993. The site
sits on a hillside, and the eastern half was plowed later in the
nineteenth century. An are aapproximately 100 x 80 feet has been
excavated by hand.
Beneath the plowzone, three root cellars and two lines of irregularly spaced
postholes define the footprint of a cabin which measured approximately 15
x 25 feet (Structure I). A shallow feature roughly 10 feet in
diameter was uncovered 14 feet northeast of the cabin. It contained
charcoal and pockets of ash, daub and brick fragments, numerous
wrought nails, and small quantities of ceramics, glass and animal
bone. Along the southeast edge of the feature, and sealed beneath
its fill, a small, ash-filled pit was uncovered. Some 2 feet in
diameter and 0.8 feet deep, the pit contained quantities of charcoal
and one creamware sherd. A large, flat stone had been placed within
the pit. The large shallow feature is currently interpreted as
a filled floor surface within a small outbuilding (Structure II).
Excavations during the fall and winter of 1996 have focused
on a complex of three pits, a section of stone paving, and a series
of post holes believed to be associated with a third structure.
These features lie approximately 25 feet west of the cabin, and
have not been significantly disturbed by plowing. Although field
and laboratory analysis is ongoing, artifacts associated with the
pits, paving and in surrounding layers suggests that this structure may
also have been a dwelling (Structure m).
Preliminary analysis of the crossmends in the ceramic and glass
assemblages demonstrates that Structures I and m had different
areas of deposition rather than a shared yard space. Analysis of
the artifacts as a whole, especially early machine cut nail distributions,
suggests that Structure III postdates Structures I and II.
The assemblage of nails from the site has been cataloged by
size and type into construction nails and "others" (those
used for furniture, finish nails, horseshoe nails etc.) Ratios
of construction nails (pulled, clinched, unaltered) from areas
associated with each of the three structures were compared to ratios
reported by archaeologist Amy Young for house construction, destruction
and disposal sites. The Poplar Forest ratios were not comparable to
any of Young's findings. Maps plotting the distributions of each
type of nail showed concentrations of each directly on the site
of Structure m, and scattered in the area northwest of Structures
I and II which has been interpreted as a work yard.
Susan Trevarthen Andrews, an independent consultant, has analyzed
faunal materials from Structures I and II. Four hundred and twenty
excavated bones and over 1,000 bones recovered from wet screening
constituted the assemblage from root cellars within Structure I.
One adult and two immature pigs were represented in the faunal
assemblage from Structure I; the remaining species were represented
by one adult each: cow, chicken, turkey, white tailed deer, opossum,
squirrel, and rabbit. While domestic mammals were represented
by a predominance of skull and foot fragments, element distributions
from wild species suggest that slaves had access to whole carcasses.
This evidence, coupled with the recovery of used lead shot of varying
sizes and a gunflint suggest that the residents of the site hunted
to provide a portion of their meat diet.
Eighty two excavated bones and 367 bone fragments recovered
from wet screening were analyzed from Structure II. One adult cow,
an adult pig and a chicken were identified. The faunal remains
from Structure m have not yet been analyzed.
Floral samples from these features are currently undergoing
analysis by Leslie Raymer of New South Associates. She has identified
corn, peaches, grapes, wild beans, cherries, chinaberry seeds,
black walnut and hickory shells from the fill of a root cellar
in Structure I.
Elbow shaped schist tobacco pipes have been recovered from
root cellarfill and plowzone. Several fragments have incised decorations
consisting of Xs or parallel lines on the bowls, and one stem is
octagonal in shape. Pieces of cut schist and a pipe waster have
also been recovered from the site, suggesting that these pipes
were made by slave residents. Similar pipes have been recovered
from disturbed contexts associated with Monticello's Mulberry Row,
and a single fragment was uncovered in the fill of a circa 1820
stable floor excavated in Lynchburg, Virginia. Whether the practice of
making stone pipes in the early nineteenth century was widespread
in the Virginia Piedmont, or whether it was more localized, remains
to be discovered.
Backfilling of the site should be completed within the next
few weeks. A "ghost" structure will be placed above the
remains of Structure I to convey basic information about the buildings
size and siting to the public. Interpretive signs will accompany
the exhibit. For further information about the site, please contact:
Barbara Heath, Director of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar
Forest, P.O. Box 419, Forest, VA 24551.
The Works Progress Administration
Oklahoma Slave Narratives
Dr. T. Lindsay and Julia Baker
This book, newly published by Baylor University, represents
the first collective printing of all known Oklahoma interviews
during the WPA Slave Narrative Project which was conducted from
1937-1939. It includes 50 slave narratives that had never been
sent to Washington. For more information contact the Bakers at
Connections: African-American History and CRM National Park
CRM, volume 19, no. 2, published by the National Park Service
is entitled Connections: African-American History and CRM, and
is devoted entirely to African-American History and a celebration
of African-American History Month. This month owes its origins
to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of African-American historiography.
While the publication provides some interesting articles on the
Underground Railroad, the Civil War and on historic sites around the
nation maintained by the Park Service, there is little of an archaeological nature.
It seems we need to educate even the Park Service that there is an
archaeological database at each of their sites that also needs
to be examined and preserved. For more information contact Editor,
CRM (2250), US Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Cultural
Resources, P.O. Box 3127, Washington, DC 20013-7127, 202-343-3395,
Black Athena Revisited Lefkowitz Mar R., and Guy MacLean
(editors)(Submitted by John P. McCarthy IMA Consulting, Inc.)
Martin Bernal injected considerable controversy into the field
of ancient history with his Black Athena: the Afro-asiatic Roots
of Classical Civilization (Vol. I, 1987; Vol. II, 1991, Rutgers
University Press, New Brunswick). These revisionist volumes sought
to "lessen European cultural arrogance" by claiming that
the cradle of Western civilization was Africa rather than Greece,
thus radically revising ancient history. They captured the imagination of
much of the general public and earned the enmity of many scholars.
This new volume assembles the commentaries of leading archaeologists, classicists,
linguists, Egyptologists, historians, and physical anthropologists to
address many of the controversial statements in Bernal's work.
Of particularnote is C. Loring Brace et al.'s analysis of the
physical traits of ancient and modern Egyptians to debunk Bernal's
assertion that many "black" pharaohs ruled Egypt.
While this volume is important for its critique of the most
dubious aspects of Bernal's scholarship, it also begs the question
of what standard of "truth" should be applied to scholarly,
and even pseudoscholarly, material, even material produced to correct
long-standing social or cultural injustices. These are issues that
all researchers concerned with the study of ethnicity, race, and
class should be concerned. (1996, Black Athena Revisited, University of
North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.)
Taylor Michaels is interested in receiving information concerning
sewing tools found in plantation and urban slave sites, for his
thesis and ongoing research on slave quilting. He is currently
interested in states other than South Carolina, as he has surveyed
site reports there through the 1994 field season. However, he is
still interested in new finds there. Contact Taylor at 715 Regency
Square Apt. 308, Kalamazoo, MI, 49008.
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