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VCU Archaeology

Civil War and Emancipation Day: Voices for Freedom

Note that this blog post was completed by a Spring 2017 intern in the Virtual Curation Laboratory as part of the internship requirements.

by Madelyn Knighting

On April 8th, an extremely hot Saturday a few weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia entitled “Civil War and Emancipation Day: Voices for Freedom”. This event occurs annually and serves as a way in which the Richmond community, and communities across Virginia, are able to learn about the stories of peoples that are not usually a part of standard curricula. Various organizations and museums brought exhibits pertaining to enslaved contexts and emancipation associated with a number of different historical sites in Virginia.

I attended the event as an intern of the Virtual Curation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University. Student interns at the Virtual Curation Lab work with Dr. Bernard Means, a professor of Anthropology, to 3-D scan and 3-D print archaeological artifacts (pictured below). The goal of the Virtual Curation Lab is to create a virtual database of artifacts for museums, universities, and individuals to use across the world.

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For the Civil War and Emancipation Day event, the artifacts that were present came from multiple historic sites in Virginia. Artifacts from George Washington’s Ferry Farm include several Carnelian beads excavated from an enslaved context that are made from a mineral only found in India. The artifact assemblage from the House for Families at George Washington’s Mount Vernon included cow bone, a pearlware teacup, a bone utensil, and a bone fan blade. Artifacts from Manassas at the Nash site include a 5,000-year-old stone projectile point that was found in a ritual cache alongside multiple quartz crystals that dates to the 1880s. Researchers believe it was probably intended to ward off evil spirits. Archaeologists excavated two stone pipes at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest that were made and traded by an enslaved individual. At Manassas National Battlefield Park, archaeologists excavated fragments of colonoware, which are low-fired ceramics typically made by enslaved individuals.

These artifacts are just a handful of the items that the Virtual Curation Lab possesses that have been excavated from enslaved contexts. They all hold great significance for archaeologists when trying to create a more holistic picture of the daily life of enslaved individuals during both slavery and emancipation. The presence of faunal remains give archaeologists a better look at their diets and hunting practices. The presence of items like pottery, jewelry, and the quartz crystals give archaeologists information about trading patterns and manufacturing techniques. The cultural material that has been excavated at historical sites can tell the stories of people who may have otherwise have been forgotten, and the Virtual Curation Lab is invested in providing artifacts and exhibits with which the public can interact in order to encourage public investment so that these stories can be shared.

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