African American Archaeology
Georgia is one of the birthplaces of the archaeological study of African American sites and artifacts.
Robert tenant farms, urban sites, rural communities, and cemeteries. As a result, archaeologists have made contributions to the understanding of African American landscapes, architecture, artifacts, and customs.
HistoriansGeorgia coast through their efforts in the construction of rice fields and dikes. West Africans were engaged in tidal rice agriculture before their capture and transfer to the New World, and the tidal system of earthen dikes and wooden trunks used to control the flowof water, as employed along the Georgia coast, likely developed in part out of an African tradition. Archaeologists have also examined other earthen constructions completed by slave labor, such as the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal, and in doing so have recognized African Americans' contributions to the coastal landscape as builders and engineers.
Archaeologists have also learned that early slave villages on the plantations were loosely organized and African in appearance, employing African architectural styles and techniques. As the plantation economy expanded in scale and wealth, planters implemented a more formal landscape plan in which slave villages were organized along streets. While the planned villages were intended to provide better visibility and control to the planters, slaves still found ways to avoid observation. Evidence of numerous pit features has been discovered in the yards of slave quarters. Pit features were common to West African village sites, where the pits were used as storage for root crops, soil sources for pottery and building construction, shrines, and trash pits, and their presence in Georgian slave house yards most likely reflects a cultural continuance.
Archaeologists tabby architecture—a building type found along the Georgia coast, where the building material is a concrete formed from lime, sand, and oyster shell—may have developed out of African earthen-walled technology, as it shares the use of wall trenches and forms found on African American earth-walled buildings.
African American structures were generally rectangular in shape, as opposed to the square forms preferred by Europeans. A post-in-ground structure dating to about 1850 from the Springfield community in Augusta is similar in form and construction to houses made by the Yoruba in West Africa as well as to Caribbean descendents of this building style. Archaeological studies support research by historian John Michael Vlach suggesting that the southern "shotgun house," an elongated rectangular house type that is one room wide and two to four rooms deep, developed out of this West African architectural tradition.
Archaeological workSt. Simons Island, told a Works Progress Administration interviewer in the late 1930s:
Ole Man Okra he say we wanted a place like he had in Africa so he built him a hut.... It was about twelve by fourteen feet and it had a dirt floor and he built the side like basket weave with a clay plaster on it. It had a flat roof what he made from brush and palmetto.... But Master made him pull it down. He say he ain't want no African hut on his place.
Rice and Sea Island cotton agriculture of the Georgia coast was organized using the task labor system, in which slaves were assigned specific tasks and, once the tasks were completed, allowed to use the remainder of the day for their own purposes. African Americans on task-labor plantations hunted, fished, grew vegetables, and made crafts like colonoware pottery and sweetgrass baskets to generate income, and in certain instances they were able to acquire enough money to purchase their freedom.
Georgia blacks continued to develop ceramic folk arts following the end of the plantation era in 1865. Archaeologists have studied terra cotta burial markers found in Milledgeville-area cemeteries that appear to be the work of African Americans at the McMillan brick factory and other local brick factories or of those who worked at some of Georgia's southern stoneware potteries.
Archaeological studies have also shown how European and American-made artifacts were used in African American households. Excavations of both slave village sites and free black urban settings show that African Americans preferred hollowares (such as bowls and cups) to flatwares (such as plates and platters). This supports conclusions based on analyses of plant and animal food remains that the African American diet included more liquid-based meals, such as soups and stews, than did European foodways. The preference for liquid-based meals demonstrates a continuation of African cultural traditions.
The Springfield Baptist Church, one of the nation's oldest continually practicing African American churches.
Archaeologists have found evidence of African American customs and beliefs. Xs and other cross marks found on colonoware pottery and other artifacts are believed to represent African symbols, particularly the Bakonogo Cosmogram or dikenga dia Kongo. Archaeologist Leland Ferguson has examined cross marks found on colonoware pottery and believes that cross-marked vessels were used in African rituals and in the preparation of healing medicines.
Elsewhere,Bryan County, which dates to the eighteenth century, archaeologists identified a sacrificial lamb burial behind a slave cabin and noted that the archaeological assemblage also included blue beads, mirror glass fragments, a pewter sheep figurine, and colonoware pottery. They suggest that the cabin was the dwelling of a healer or shaman on the plantation. Using GIS, the archaeologists also noted that this cabin was among those least visible to the overseer and planter.
Archaeologists working with African American cemeteries have observed other cultural continuations, including the presence of such grave offerings as broken pottery and glass objects to be used by the deceased; stones, shells, and earth to mark the border of a grave or plot; white or silver objects; and objects associated with water. All these discoveries illustrate the ways that African beliefs and customs shaped black life in Georgia and elsewhere in the New World.
Media Gallery: African American Archaeology