Americas, north: Plantation archaeology

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


Plantation archaeology seeks to understand the economic, political, and social order that emerged from the development of plantations-agricultural enterprises in which some form of bound labor produces a crop for someone else that is usually sold in an international market. In North America, where the vast majority of plantations have been investigated, archaeologists have studied a variety of plantations engaged in the production of staple crops such as cotton, tobacco, rice, indigo, sugar, and hemp. Most plantation archaeology focuses on the workers, either enslaved laborers or tenant-and-wage laborers of post-bellum plantations. Because of this focus on workers and the fact that most workers, particularly those enslaved, were of African-descent, one archaeological approach views the plantation as the birthplace of African Diaspora cultures. In many of these studies certain archaeological materials-clay-walled houses, handcrafted pottery and pipes, amulets, and other objects some presumed to be of religious significance are interpreted as exhibiting African influences. Whereas other archaeologists interested in the African diaspora focus on the understanding the everyday lives and lived experiences of enslaved workers on plantations. Their research often addresses how enslaved people shaped their material lives beyond the meager provisions allocated to them. Another approach seeks to untangle the complex social and political relations characteristic of plantation production. These studies analyze the ways in which plantation laborers, whether slave or free, were subjugated into subordinate social positions, and how laborers challenged the authority of owners and managers. In many of these studies the layout of the plantation and use of spaces illustrate how social inequalities and hierarchies were incorporated into plantation design. Although archaeologists began excavating plantations in the United States in the 1930s, the systematic study of plantations to obtain information on the lives of plantation residents began in the 1970s. Since that time plantation archaeology has grown beyond the confines of North America. Today, archaeologists are studying plantations throughout the world. © 2008

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Archaeology
Number of pages3
ISBN (Print)9780123739629
StatePublished - 2008


  • African diaspora
  • Capitalist mode of production
  • Colonoware
  • Diaspora
  • Ethnogenesis
  • Panopticon
  • Plantation complex
  • Plantation layout slavery
  • Plantations
  • Slave agency
  • Slave household formation
  • Storage pits
  • Tenant plantations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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