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African American Material Culture, 1700s-1800s: Ritual/Spiritual Beliefs

Ritual/Spiritual Beliefs

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  1. Quartz Point from Ritual Cache. Nash Site. Manassas National Battlefield Park. Point created ca. 4,000-1,000 BCE, ritual cache ca. 1880. Courtesy of the National Park Service-National Capital Region, Washington, D.C. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/IVSE.

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  1. Quartz Crystal from Ritual Cache. Nash Site, Manassas National Battlefield Park, ca. 1880. Courtesy of the National Park Service-National Capital Region, Washington, D.C. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/IVUs.

This quartz point and quartz crystal were discovered along with other objects in what archeologists interpret as a ritual cache. The cache included the two items displayed here, an additional five quartz crystals and a piece of galena, all found in Manassas outside of a chimney. While Native Americans manufactured the quartz point 3,000 to 6,000 years ago, archeologists date the curation of the cache to a time after the construction of the house and after the Civil War. Census records from 1880 indicate that the Nash family occupied the house at roughly the time period associated with the cache. Philip and Sarah Nash and their five children were a free African American family at the time of the cache’s creation.

Both the location of the Nash ritual cache and the items included in it are representative of other archeological findings, especially where enslaved peoples lived. Thresholds, corners, and hearths carried importance, and archeologists typically find ritual caches in these locations. Items included within these groupings vary, but can include: bent pins, nails, ceramic and glass fragments, crystals, polished stones, buttons, lithic tools (like the quartz point), and animal bones. One researcher argues that crystals, like in the Nash ritual cache, had a protective or healing function. These items in these ritual caches resemble African spirit bundles or minkisi. Like ritual caches found in the US, minkisi varied in the objects included and the purpose they served.

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  1. Raccoon Baculum. House for Families, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 1758-1793. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Printable 3D model available at: https://skfb.ly/WqQ8.

This raccoon baculum, or penis bone, has a groove near one end. This groove suggests that a cord was once tied around the object, probably to form a necklace. Male raccoons are known for their sexual aggression, which means this object may have been a fertility symbol.


Additional Resources (Ritual Cache):

Galke, Laura. 2003, “Ritual Caches and Ethnicity: How Do We Recognize Them and Who Is Responsible For Their Creation?” pages 59-71.

Galke, Laura J. “Did the Gods of Africa Die? A Re-Examination of A Carroll House Crystal Assemblage.” North American Archaeologist 21, no. 1 (2000): 19-33. doi:10.2190/njeu-aq4q-0k86-grjt.

Additional Resources (Mount Vernon):

Mount Vernon Ladies Association. 2016. “Archaeological Remains of Slave Life at Mount Vernon.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/slide_player?mets_filename=sld3719mets.xml.

Pogue, Dennis J., Ph.D. “House for Families.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/house-for-families/.

Thompson, Mary V. “The Private Life of George Washington’s Slaves.” PBS. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/video/lives.html.

White, Esther. “News from Mount Vernon.” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter 2, no. 2 (July 1995): 1-2. Accessed July 13, 2016. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1570&context=adan.

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