Good Questions Met by Archaeological Revelations

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2014

This symposium presents experiences with a different approach to the conference theme of «Questions that Count» Some of the greatest moments in our scientific practice come when we launch rigorous investigations, based on robust, theoretically informed, and contextually tailored questions, only to see the archaeological record confront us with astonishing and unexpected revelations about the past. Each of these presentations provides an account of a project in which the evidence surprised and thwarted expectations and opened new avenues of inquiry. Some investigators demand that the expense of archaeology be justified by indications that documentary records and oral history accounts alone cannot provide ample evidence to understand particular cultural dynamics. Others insist that well-framed questions will always be best applied by addressing the often contrastive data sets of material culture, documents, and oral histories. A third observation can be equally poignant -- sometimes the archaeology will just astound us.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-16 of 16)

  • Documents (16)

  • The Accotink Quarter (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Boyd Sipe.

    The Accotink Quarter was a circa 1720 to 1769 outlying tobacco plantation quarter site in Fairfax County, Virginia. Intact historic features and artifact deposits indicated the location of an overseer’s house and a dwelling for enslaved laborers. The overseer during the late period of the occupation was identified from store accounts where his purchases of various goods for himself and the quarter were documented. A total of 1,400 colonoware sherds representing a minimum of 197 vessels were...

  • Can See to Can’t See: Surprises at Montpelier’s Home Quarter (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Trickett. Matthew Reeves.

    In 2012, archaeologists returned to the ‘Tobacco Barn Quarter’ as part of an NEH-funded study of larger enslaved community at James Madison’s Montpelier. Initial survey had revealed what were thought to be armored work surfaces, possible chimney falls, and borrow pit filled in with domestic trash. Archaeologists returned to the site in 2012 as part of an NEH-funded study of the larger enslaved community expecting to find evidence for sub-floor pits and hearths under collapsed stick-and-mud...

  • Colonial Subsistence Strategies: Resource Use in English Charleston and Spanish St. Augustine (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Martha Zierden. Elizabeth Reitz.

    Decades of zooarchaeological research shows that, in the 18th to early 19th centuries, Spanish colonists in St. Augustine and British colonists in Charleston practiced somewhat different provisioning strategies, despite similar environmental conditions. English colonists emphasized cattle and wild game, while Spanish settlers focused on fishes and other marine species. But new analysis from Spanish, French, and English sites in the Southeastern Atlantic coastal plain suggest that this was not...

  • Confronting a Dragon’s Offspring in the Americas (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Fennell. George Calfas.

    The first innovation of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery in the Americas occurred in Edgefield, South Carolina, in the early 1800s. These potteries employed enslaved and free African Americans, and stoneware forms also show evidence of likely African cultural influence on stylistic designs. Archaeological investigations in 2011 at the first Edgefield kiln, built circa 1815, were informed by a strong consensus among historians that the facility was an early form of groundhog kiln for a...

  • Deep Urban Reverberations: Exploring the Historical Trajectory of African Atlantic Cities (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Neil Norman.

    Recent scholarship has brought attention to the centrality of Africa and Africans in making the Atlantic world, as well as the cosmopolitan complexity centered in and around African cities. In building on the momentum of these efforts, research efforts around the Huedan palace complex at Savi revealed the material residue of political and economic ties between town and countryside. The efforts, quite surprisingly, also revealed Atlantic-era archaeological deposits underlain by material dating...

  • From Historic Houston Cemetery to a 17th Century English Colony? (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kenneth Brown.

    In 1986 the Fire Department of the City of Houston was altering several buildings in their Logistics Center. During this reconstruction it was determined that the renovations were impacting an historic cemetery. We obtained an emergency contract to evaluate this impact in order to aid in avoiding further impact to the human remains. During this evaluation we discovered that two types of graves were present in a small portion of the cemetery that contained European/Christian attributes, but...

  • Hidden in Plain Sight: A Tornadic Discovery of Enslaved African American Life in Missouri’s Little Dixie (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Baumann.

    In 2004, a tornado passed through Missouri’s Little Dixie region damaging what was thought to be just an early 20th century barn on the Prairie Park Plantation, an 1840s farm that was originally operated with nearly 50 enslaved African Americans. Prairie Park is a privately-owned antebellum plantation on the National Register of Historic Places with extant original brick structures and landscape features including a Georgian planter home, a detached kitchen, and a two room slave quarters. The...

  • Insights in the Unexpected: A Discovery of Cattle Horns and Beads (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Flordeliz Bugarin.

    During the early nineteenth century, the British established the Fort Willshire Trade Fairs in South Africa. To study the effects of trade and interaction between the Xhosa and the British, excavations were conducted on the former trade fair grounds near the entrance of the fort. Initial expectations of the archaeological record anticipated an array of small finds, deposits related to the diets of transitory traders, and material remains connected to those living in the fort. Through the...

  • Interpretive Inertia and Data Concatenation at Cannon’s Point, Georgia (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicholas Honerkamp.

    Thanks to John Solomon Otto’s pioneering work in plantation archaeology, Cannon’s Point on St. Simons Island, Georgia, is well known to most contemporary researchers. A ‘mystery’ tabby structure associated with this site was recently investigated by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to determine its approximate age and possible function. Documentary records and oral history information were either non-existent or ambiguous, but were sufficient to frame the existence of the tabby as an...

  • Preparing for the Unpredictable: When Research Questions and the Unknown Collide (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicole Isenbarger.

    When we sat down to write the research questions that would guide our excavations at the slave village of former Dean Hall Plantation, located near Charleston, South Carolina, we knew there were anomalies we had never seen before in the Colono Wares found when the site was discovered. However, as the excavations unfolded, the artifacts being recovered not only solidified our hunch that we had one of the most unique Colono Ware assemblages ever found in America, but proved that our research...

  • Questions, Methods, and Interpretations that Count: Reflections on Collaborative Archaeology in Nevis, West Indies (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Edward Gonzalez-Tennant.

    This paper examines the unexpected interpretive potentials which appear when archaeologists craft research projects exploring the tangible and intangible aspects of heritage. This requires a fluid and reflexive approach to fieldwork situating the concerns of local communities alongside those of the researcher. This form of collaboration raises questions regarding whether or not historical archaeology may sometimes miss potential collaborative projects due to a site’s assumed ethnic or racial...

  • Reading Ceramic Use Wear: A Twist in the Plot (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alison Bell. Donald Gaylord.

    This narrative of archaeological surprise begins with relationships between mean ceramic and documentary dates for two early 19th-century Virginia plantation sites. Finding discordant dates at an overseer’s site but relatively consistent ones at a nearby enslaved woman’s site, we hypothesized that the overseer’s family used ceramic vessels longer, generating more extensive wear. Analysis under low magnification, however, produced the opposite results. These unexpected finds not only required...

  • Reframing Material Culture Meaning using the Elements (INAA) of Surprise (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Linda Naunapper.

    Bell Type II and affiliated aboriginal ceramics have long been proposed as ethnic markers of the historic Potawatomi and their ancestors in the Great Lakes region. In a more recent study, previous analyses were revisited and integrated with new data to assess the veracity of this hypothesis. Updated metric ceramic analysis identified far fewer ceramic specimens conforming to the suite of attributes defining the ceramic type than was expected (a majority being recovered from the type-site...

  • The Slave Water Well at Kingsley Plantation: The Unexpected Possibilities of an African Religiosity within a Secular Context (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Davidson.

    At Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island, Florida, eight years of summer archaeological field schools have revealed new knowledge regarding African lifeways in this early 19th century New World context, through excavations within four slave cabins and the discovery of the long lost Kingsley era African Burial Ground. In 2010 and 2011 we also uncovered a previously unknown slave water-well. While digging the well we expected to find amazing artifacts like whole ceramic vessels, bottles, or...

  • Take Five: The Unexpected in Historical Archaeology (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anne Yentsch.

    Research leads down many paths, but some are less apparent than others. An analytical awareness takes one further, but awareness is not a hat that can be donned at will. It comes at odd times, often popping up when incongruities or inconsistencies’puzzles--are resolved. Solving a puzzle can be done deductively, but intuition plays a role. Revelations are sudden and unexpected. Five examples stand out in my own research: the male/female aspects of earth-toned and white pottery; turning a question...

  • The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Archaeological Research: Examples from the Comparative Study of New World English Colonial Capitals (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marley Brown III.

    This paper argues that archaeological research, while guided by general research questions, can be most productive when it needs to contextualize unanticipated discoveries - the surprises that often make archaeological fieldwork worth doing. Such contextualization takes the form of a multifaceted dialogue between an unexpected archaeological find, an existing historiography, additional historical research and archaeological analysis prompted by the surprise finding, and, most importantly, a...