Sidebar 6: Archaeology of African-Americans - Martha Zierden

Long-famous for its “gracious heritage,” Charleston has become equally well-known as a cradle of African-American culture. The city was the port of entry for the majority of Africans forced from their homes to a life of bondage on American plantations. Sheer numbers and relative isolation on plantation tracts combined to create a dynamic African-American culture that evolved through the centuries and remains a defining social force in the lowcountry. Archaeological artifacts attributable to people of African descent are few, despite the claim of archaeology that all people are equally reflected in the ground. Urban sites have revealed quantities of colono ware, pottery made locally in African style first recovered in quantity on plantation slave sites, and studied by Leland Ferguson and others (see African Americans on Southern Plantations). Such ceramics comprise about five percent of those recovered on Charleston sites, and attest to the presence of African people and African practices. Other items likely the cultural and physical possessions of enslaved Africans include quartz crystals, silver Spanish coins pierced for wearing as charms, and possibly carnelian and glass beads in a variety of colors. While archaeologists have always focused on these unique artifacts, most scholars now recognize that they were only a small part of the possessions of black residents.