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African-American Archaeology

Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network

Number 14, Summer 1995

Thomas 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
  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • 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 the Congress.

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 Age Africa.)

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 Park

Everybody 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, VA 22121.

The 1996 African-American Cross Cultural Workshop

Submitted by Carol McDavid,

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, or contact Tom Wheaton at

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, Mrs. Washington.

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 coordinators.

The tour is presented four times a day at 10, 12, 2, and 4.

North East Popular Culture Association

Annual Conference

October 6-7, 1995

Worcester Polytechnical Institute

Worcester, Mass.

For information contact: Peter Holloran, NECPA

Treasurer, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, MA

02167, 617 731 7066,

New England Historical Association

Fall Meeting

October 28, 1995

Saint Anselm College

Manchester, Mass.

For information contact: Peter Holloran, Executive

Secretary, NEHA, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill,

MA 02167, 617 731 7066,

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 Foundation.

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.

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