A Comparative Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture: Project Update


In 2003, a consortium of researchers at various institutions undertook the project, ‘A Comparative

Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture,’ funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. This project is designed to document and interpret the interactions between the multiple groups that made up the Chesapeake society by comparing material culture recovered from various colonial sites in Maryland and Virginia. The project can also serve as a methodological guide for similar collaborative studies in the future. Our primary objective is to re-examine artifact patterning and intrasite spatial organization of eighteen 17th to 18th century rural plantation sites located in the Chesapeake region.

Through analysis of material culture patterning at these sites, particularly its spatial organization, we are beginning to see patterns discerning the ways in which Europeans, Indians, and Africans created boundaries and forged new identities in a radically new natural and social environment. Such cultural boundaries, which emerged from pre-existing understandings prior to contact, were established in an attempt to define what was the appropriate behavior between planters and laborers, men and women, and the individuals of different social, economic, and ethnic groups. It was on the plantation that individuals from these groups were in relatively constant contact, and therefore, this study will compare data retrieved from various rural colonial occupation sites. The project is organized to examine these interactions through three major categories:

1. The organization of labor and the rise of race-based slavery. We will attempt to better

understand how spatial segregation of the planter’s household and the laborer community was

established through analysis of architecture, fence lines, features, and plow zone artifact


2. Intercultural Contact and Relations. By examining selected artifact types such as shell and glass beads, Indian ceramics, and terra cotta pipes and comparing them among the different sites, we

hope to gain further knowledge on the cultural collisions in Chesapeake society.

3. Living Standards and the Consumer Revolution. We will attempt to evaluate the demonstration

of social status through material possession and accumulation. We are focusing on this concept by

examining the percentages of utilitarian ware and finer ceramics at each site, as well as by detailing

the amount and types of small finds excavated.

Cite this Record

A Comparative Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture: Project Update. Catherine Alston. 2004 ( tDAR id: 6096) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8M043P8

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1600 to 1700

Spatial Coverage

min long: -77.498; min lat: 36.633 ; max long: -75.41; max lat: 39.368 ;

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