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African-American Archaeology

Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network

Number 16, Spring-Summer 1996

Thomas 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 relict weapons.

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 from Africa.

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 them.

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.

References Cited

Balfour, Henry
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 Anthropologist.

Berry, Brewton
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. Washington.

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.

References Cited

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.// 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

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.

Bibliography Sought

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,

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 state.

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 25755-2014

Juneteenth Celebration

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 Thanks so much.

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 817-755-1110.

Connections: African-American History and CRM National Park Service

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.

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2005 African Diaspora Archaeology Network
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Last updated: April 16, 2005
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