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Carver didn’t begin formal education until he was about 12
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More by this author. Login with your subscriber account:. I am Magazine subscriber Newsletter subscriber. Remember Me. Or enter with social networking:. It looks like you are a Prospect subscriber. They were smoking cigarettes after class in late Sayers proposed to do his dissertation on the archaeology of 19th-century agriculture. Stifling a yawn, Prof.
Is reason the slave of the passions? | Prospect Magazine
Marley Brown III asked him what he knew about the maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp and suggested this would make a more interesting dissertation project. He started doing archival research on the Great Dismal Swamp. He found scattered references to maroons dating back to the early s. The first accounts described runaway slaves and Native Americans raiding farms and plantations, and then disappearing back into the swamp with stolen livestock.
From the s until the Civil War, runaway slave ads in the Virginia and North Carolina newspapers often mentioned the Dismal Swamp as the likely destination, and there was persistent talk of permanent maroon settlements in the morass. British traveler J. The most comprehensive work that Sayers found was a dissertation by an oddball historian named Hugo Prosper Leaming. He was a white Unitarian minister and civil rights activist who managed to get accepted into a Black Muslim temple in Chicago and wore a fez with his Unitarian robes.
Leaming surveyed local and state records related to the Dismal Swamp, and scoured unpublished local histories, memoirs and novels for references to maroons. In his dissertation, later published as a book, he presents a detailed account of maroon history in the swamp, with a list of prominent chiefs and vivid descriptions of Africanized religious practices. So I decided to survey the swamp, find the high ground and dig there. It showed clusters of tree species that typically grow on higher, drier ground. To help him get into these areas, Sayers recruited young, energetic assistants and armed them with machetes and loppers.
Carver was born a slave
In eight hours, we made feet. The brush was so thick it would have taken us a week to get there, so we gave up. On the edge of the swamp, where sites were more accessible, Sayers found some artifacts that clearly suggested maroons. He went back to his professors with a timetable. In 12 weeks, he would identify the key sites, complete the shovel tests and perform his excavations.
Then I spent five more summers excavating with my students in field schools. All the excavation sites at the nameless site are now filled in and covered over.
But Sayers is an expressive talker and gesticulator, and as he walks me around the island, he conjures up clusters of log cabins, some with raised floors and porches. He points to invisible fields and gardens in the middle distance, children playing, people fishing, small groups off hunting. Charlie, the ex-maroon interviewed in Canada, described people making furniture and musical instruments. No one was going to work them in a cotton field from sunup to sundown, or sell their spouses and children. They were free.
They had emancipated themselves.
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Inside, the office has a comfortable, masculine, lived-in feel. In the bookshelves are the entire works of Karl Marx. I ask him how his Marxism influences his archaeology. When ideological passion drives research, in archaeology or anything else, it can generate tremendous energy and important breakthroughs. It can also lead to the glossing over of inconvenient data, and biased results.
MIT class reveals, explores Institute’s connections to slavery
He takes me down the hall to his laboratory, where soil samples are stacked in plastic bags on high shelving units and hundreds of artifacts are bagged, numbered and stored in metal cabinets. I ask to see the most important and exciting finds. In order to date these soils, and the traces of human occupation left in them, Sayers used a combination of techniques.
One was the law of superposition: Layers of undisturbed soil get older as you dig deeper. The third technique was optically stimulated luminescence, or OSL. Before , most people at the nameless site were Native Americans. The first maroons were there within a few years of the arrival of African slaves in nearby Jamestown in After , Native American materials become scarce; what he identifies as maroon artifacts begin to dominate.
Sayers pulls out a stone arrowhead about an inch long, one side chipped away to form a tiny curved knife or scraper. Maroons would find them, modify them, and keep using them until they were worn down into tiny nubs.
Nothing was more exciting than finding the footprints of seven cabins at the nameless site, in the range. It is certainly not the type of place that you would make a choice to live in, unless you needed to hide. He pulls out a disk of plain, earth-colored Native American pottery, the size of a large cookie.
The artifacts keep getting smaller: flakes of pipe clay, gunflint particles from the early 19th century, when the outside world was pushing into the swamp. They were using organic materials from the swamp. Except for the big stuff like cabins, it decomposes without leaving a trace. For the curator Nancy Bercaw, it presented an unusual challenge.
They are reworked pebbles, shims for post holes, tiny fragments of stone from an unnamed island. Some of them look like grains of sand. Artifact 1 is a white clay tobacco-pipe fragment, 12 millimeters long. There is a small chunk of burnt clay, a five-millimeter piece of flattened lead shot, a quartz flake, a British gunflint chip circa , a shard of glass, a nail head with a partial stem.
They are not the sort of objects, in other words, that catch the eye or speak for themselves. Her solution was to mount some of them in jewel cases like priceless treasures.