Justin Nightshade: Discovering the Archaeological Context of an African Household

My name is Justin Nightshade, and I’m a second-year at FSU. While I originally began my path as a creative writing major, I fell in love with anthropology during my first year here. Now, I’m actually pursuing a dual degree with both of those as my majors. Dr. Jayur Madhusudan Mehta’s class was actually the first anthropology course I ever took: Intro to Archaeology, and it was one of the catalysts as to why I became so interested in this field. For this project, I’ll be traveling to the Evergreen Plantation, located in the parish of St. John the Baptist. Dr. Mehta has been working with the nearby locals in excavating this plantation for a while now, and every summer there is a field school that takes students from across the country in order for them to learn more about archaeological processes, and get hands-on experience with field work. I’ll be attending this field school, and I’ll also be working with Dr. Mehta on a specialized project at the plantation, where I’ll be specifically exploring the archaeological contexts of a household used by both free and enslaved Africans.

Evergreen Plantation, Wallace, Louisiana

I have many goals when it comes to working with this project and with Dr. Mehta. The main one is to become more comfortable in the archaeological field as well as see if it’s a field I’d like to continue working in. I’ll be strengthening my skills in analyzing artifacts, both in the field and in a lab environment. I would also be discovering more about the history and anthropological context of the region in Louisiana, specifically learning about African and African American culture that developed within slave plantations. This project may also potentially help me jumpstart an honors thesis, should I choose to make one.

I plan to have my project complete by early-mid June. By May 14th, Dr. Mehta wants me to complete an annotated bibliography of different sources so I have some context regarding the culture that surrounded slave plantations and slaves at the time. Once we get to the field school, I’ll be tasked with a small excavation site around an area that was used first as a house, and then as a church, in the mid-late 1800s. Both in the site and around the plantation as a whole, I’ll be focusing on the architecture, spatial layout, and the archaeology– seeing how differences can correlate to differences in African culture (given that slaves were taken from many different places in Africa to be brought to plantations).

Around week three of the field school, I’ll start analyzing the artifacts in my test excavation site — washing and sorting the artifacts, then classifying and labeling them based on where I find them and what exactly they are. This will go on throughout the field school — excavating and then analyzing the artifacts until I have a satisfactory collection of said artifacts. The week after the field school ends, Dr. Mehta will have me start working on a paper that could possibly turn into my honors thesis. I’ll be using both the annotated bibliography that I’ll collect at the beginning of the project as well as my own findings, and I’ll also do more research to compare my artifacts to the findings of other archaeologists in nearby sites.

Row of Slave Cabins at the Evergreen Plantation

When Dr. Mehta and I are in the field, we’ll essentially be seeing each other every day. However, we plan on meeting once a week in person to specifically discuss progress while we’re at the field school. As for before and after, we plan on communicating by email at least once a week.

If the research from the annotated bibliography takes longer than expected, I can complete more of it in the first few weeks of the field school. If the field school, for some reason, needs to unexpectedly halt its processes or shut down, the analyzing of artifacts can happen in the lab at FSU — Dr. Mehta has collected many things from Evergreen Plantation in the past years he’s worked on the field school that takes place there. In the field school, it’s highly unlikely communication will break down, since we’ll be in each other’s vicinity for multiple hours a day, but out of the field school, most of the research is self-directed, so I don’t see it being all that devastating if email communication isn’t answered.

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