Reclaiming the Gullah-Geechee past: Archaeology of slavery in coastal Georgia

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13 Scopus citations


Lowcountry Georgia was the birthplace for the archaeological study of African American life that has now blossomed into the research field known as archaeology of the African diaspora. Although it was not the site of the earliest archaeological study of people of African descent, the research conducted by Charles Fairbanks, an archaeologist, and Robert Ascher, a cultural anthropologist, at Rayfield Plantation on Cumberland Island in 1969 set the stage for the study of slavery and plantation life as the interdisciplinary pursuit practiced today.1 Their precedent-setting study combined descriptive accounts obtained from a variety of written sources - slave narratives, travelers' accounts, and public records - with archaeological findings to piece together slave life within the quarters. While some of their assumptions and interpretations may be considered naïve compared to our present-day understanding of slavery, Ascher and Fairbanks demonstrated the potential of archaeology to provide a new and different perspective on slavery and African American life. They chose to examine slavery during the well-documented antebellum period (1830-60) of American history as they rejected the idea that writing was superior to other sources in providing information on past human activities. Because most enslaved men and women were unable to write about their lives, Ascher and Fairbanks reasoned that archaeology could shed some light on aspects of slave life that written records authored by whites could not.2 This argument, elaborated on by later generations of archaeologists, became the chief rationale for future archaeological investigations of slavery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAfrican American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry
Subtitle of host publicationThe Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee
PublisherUniversity of Georgia Press
Number of pages37
ISBN (Print)0820330647, 9780820330648
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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