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This is the place to find updates to the ongoing research on the  Avondale Burial Place.  Most of this research has taken place since recovery work was completed at the end of June 2010.  Also, if you have a question, please post it here and a member of the team will answer it.



  1. Recent interviews were conducted for the upcoming documentary; they included Mr. Harry Lucas, the gentleman who originally informed us of the site, and Ms. Amma Crum, descendant of the McArthur family.

    • Julie Coco-Historian
    • Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm
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    Recently, I have been researching death certificates for the Avondale and Walden area. The collection of Georgia Death Certificates at the Georgia Archives (1914-1927) focuses on the years from 1917-1918. Even though this likely represents only the last few years of the cemetery’s use, these records can offer to clues as to what families lived in the area, as well as where they most often buried their loved ones. Some of the certificates note a specific burial location, such as Mt. Zion Church, others may be more vague, listing “near Avondale.” Burial Societies and undertakers are sometimes noted. Many of the certificates list cause of death and are signed by a doctor who was a local landowner, Dr. J. W. Cowart, with another local landowner as the Registrar, R. A. Johnston. Many of the African-American family names identified in the census research as living in the area from 1870 to 1910 appear in the certificates. Although these certificates have not been able to identify any of the specific individuals who were buried in the Avondale Burial Place, they have provided more puzzle pieces for reconstructing the network of families who called Avondale and Walden home.

  2. Field work was completed at the cemetery in July 2010 and the site has since been backfilled and seeded with fresh grass. We are now well into the process of identifying and preparing a relocation site. Our goal is to keep the relocated cemetery within relatively close proximity to the original site of Avondale Burial Place.

    – Sara Gale
    GDOT Archaeologist

  3. If you have wondered how a cemetery occupied by 101 individuals could ever be lost and forgotten, the explanation lies in one of the most important societal shifts in the twentieth century. Historians have labeled this event the Great Migration. From World War I to 1970, 6 million African Americans left the rural South in search of a better life in the north and west. Unlike other movements, the Great Migration had no leader or formal structure and is not particularly well-documented. If you want to know more about this fascinating topic, Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” tells the story of the Great Migration through the narratives of everyday people.

    Sharman Southall

  4. Technical aspects of the archaeology field work at the site were filmed throughout the recovery process. This footage will be submitted for consideration to the on-line Archaeology Channel’s “Video News from TAC.” This half-hour video news magazine features stories each month from the wide world of archaeology.

  5. Promotional Token

    In general, tokens are objects designed to symbolize someone or something else. While tokens may come in a wide variety of shapes and forms, promotional tokens are designed to entice the holder to purchase or support an object, person, organization, or idea. They tend to be relatively small and made predominantly of metal or wood. Most promotional tokens appear similar to coins, but they possess no legal monetary value. They may be designed to be carried in the pocket or purse or worn on a string or ribbon. They were commonly distributed as a form of advertisement, often enabling the bearer to a special price, service, or benefit when presented at the appropriate establishment. When displayed, they frequently communicated that the wearer as part of an elite group. The use of promotional tokens can be traced back into antiquity.

    Commonly referred to as a ‘Hard Times Tokens’, this type of political media symbolizes the economic depression blamed on Jacksonian and democratic policies that focused on US fiscal management plans based on hard currency. The Panic of 1837 and subsequent depression resulted in the hoarding of hard currency and shortages of coinage. Many hard times tokens bore a familiar resemblance to U.S. coinage of the time. They were probably intentionally sized close to the large cent to lampoon the currency’s lack of value. Some forms bear busts of Columbia that are similar to those on the large cent. The substitution of “Not One Cent for Tribute” for “One Cent” not only prevented charges of counterfeiting being leveled on the token’s private manufacturers, but also served as a political slogan aimed against tribute payment to the Barbary Pirates . Biting political slogans were rampant. While none of the tokens were struck by the Federal government (and hence carried no official monetary backing), some forms were unofficially accepted by merchants as legal tender.

    A single promotional token was recovered from the neck region of the adult in F-86. The token was circular with a diameter of 0.875 inches (2.7 centimeters). It was made of a cupreous alloy. Generally these tokens were composed of copper, although one specimen in the Alan S. Fisher collection was listed as made of brass. A small hole was drilled near the margin and fibers, preserved by absorption of copper salts, indicted that cotton filiments (probably a string) once passed through it. The object was undoubtedly worn around the individual’s neck. On close examination, the bust of a man in military garb was minted on the obverse side and a scale inscribed “Democrats” and “Whigs” was cast on the reverse. The date “1840” was placed below the scales. These features matched no known legal currency, but alternatively identified the object as a campaign token from William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential election campaign.

    The bust depicted William Henry Harrison; his military uniform emphasized that he was a distinguished officer during the War of 1812. The scale portrayed on the obverse weighed in favor of the Whig Party (over the Democrats) and was surrounded by the inscription “Weighed in the Balance and Found Wanting”. These features set this specimen apart from the several hundred Hard Times Tokens that have been identified by Numismatists. The token does not appear to have been part of Lyman Low’s original 1899 catalogue of Hard Times tokens, so no Low number as been assigned to the form. Twentieth century token expert Russell Rulau, assigned the number HT-819 to this particular token.

    Harrison spent much of his adult life as a career politician, holding office as Governor of the Indiana Territory, elected to seats in Congress and the Senate, and appointed as diplomat to Columbia. In his bid for the presidency in 1840 and with the backing of the Whig Party, he soundly defeated Jacksonian Democrat Martin Van Burin. Harrison’s views on slavery made many Southerners view him as an unreliable candidate. In true political style, Harrison’s rhetoric committed himself to both sides of the issue. In general, he viewed slavery as a non-Federally mandated issue that was best decided on a state-by-state basis. As a young man he joined an abolutionist society, a move that he later used to ground himself as anti-slavery. While Governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison supported the emancipation of slaves in Indiana, even freeing his own slave, but recognized the right to maintain their services under indentureships that lasted for as long as 90 years. This move brought virtually no change to the status of the enslaved person in Indiana. In the 1830s he supported emancipation, but only if the slaves returned to Africa. During the 1840 election campaign, Harrison wooed Southern voters by denying that he was ever an Abolitionist, only the member of a humane society. Harrison could hardly be seen as an inspiration to people in the South and perhaps even less so to African Americans. It seems unlikely that the importance of the token included its relation to Harrison or the presidential campaign of 1840.

    Coins carried special meaning in the historic African-American culture. Perforated coins are predictable finds around the necks, ankles, and other appendages of post-Emancipation period African-American interments. These artifacts, particularly those made of silver, were viewed as charms, able to ward off malevolent magic and possessed medicinal properties. Copper objects shared many of these same qualities. Wearing a penny around one’s neck was considered a cure for indigestion. Coins may have also served to ground important dates among illiterate or marginally literate community members. Folklorist, Harry Hyatt noted that perforated coins often bore the date of one’s birth, therefore served as a good luck charm. Rose and Santeford proposed that the dates on similar coins recovered from African-American interments in Arkansas recorded the date for the individual’s birth.

    While not technically legal U.S. legal tender, it is likely that the Harrison Campaign token’s shape, size, composition, and inscriptions prompted the community to treat it like a copper coin. The token from F-86 was recovered with Harrison’s bust facing down and the scale and 1840 date facing up; this orientation may have intentionally deemphasized the token’s association with a political candidate in favor of information provided on the back. Most prominently this may have been the date. It was very likely that the token’s date may have also been the decedent’s birth date. The token was struck and dated in 1840, representing the only securely dated pre-Emancipation artifact from the graves at Avondale. Unfortunately there are no supplemental artifacts in the grave to provide a cross-date for its placement in the cemetery. Grave dimensions and skeletal features suggest that the individual was an adult when death occurred; if the assumption that the token represents a ‘lucky coin’ is correct, death as a young adult could place the date of death as early as the late 1850s and potentially represent a pre-Emancipation interment.

    Caution however is in order. New South Associates has noted that copper does not survive well in burial environments, so the token’s poor condition cannot be viewed as a result of use, rather from exposure to caustic conditions. The aperture in a silver dime recovered from F-311 at New South Associate’s recovery of 9CH875 in Savannah, Georgia was extremely worn, an indication that the dime was used as a pendant for a considerable period of time; this wear was lacking in Avondale’s F-86 token, emphasizing that this object that was probably conserved. It is unclear how long the object may have been stowed away. This individual’s death may have occurred long after emancipation, particularly if the object was valued and protected, so it cannot be assumed that this token is unequivocal evidence of a slave interment.

    The token may have also served other purposes. The medicinal properties associated with copper coins would likely be seen in this token and the token would have served as a fine substitute for these. As noted among coins, the token may have also served as payment for transport to the world of the dead. The token’s placement with F-86 may also be an indication of the decedent’s health and relationship with the supernatural world.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  6. Coins
    Coins are relatively common artifacts found with the dead. The form and location of these artifacts in historic African-American burial traditions imply a variety of uses and meanings including body treatment, health and medicinal purposes, supernatural charms, and payment. Among African-American communities, coins provided a means of supernatural control. Many African Americans carried ‘lucky’ coins in their shoes or pockets. Silver coins found around the neck, wrist, and ankles were frequently punctured and used as charms; these sometimes followed the living into the grave. Coins, particularly silver ones, were a means of catching or containing a spirit. Placement in or on a grave would have served as a means of limiting a spirit’s ability to leave a gravesite. Coins were sometimes inserted in the ears to control spirits. Placing coins (or tokens) in the dead’s hands, pockets, or near the head provided a toll for the return of the dead’s spirit to Africa. Cases similar to this have been recorded at the Sam Goode Cemetery in Virginia, in Savannah’s 9CH875 Cemetery, and the First African Baptist Church Cemetery (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), (among others.
    All coins found in the Avondale Burial Ground were associated with the eyes. Postmortem relaxation of the muscles and placement of the dead on their backs tended to allow the eyelids to fall dorsally resulting in a culturally disturbing, open-eyed corpse. To provide more of an appearance of sleep, coins were frequently used to weigh down the eyelids. Pennies were the most frequent medium; stockpiles of coins, referred to as ‘ghost money’, were maintained specifically for that purpose. Informants from Hanover County, Virginia noted that these stockpiles consisted largely of old out-of-mint and no longer accepted coins Many researchers have noted that this practice was part of the southern African-American mortuary tradition. Occasionally these coins were left with the dead after the coffin was closed and are best identified by recovery in the orbits of the skull. There are numerous documented cases of this phenomenon in the archaeological literature.
    Six coins were recovered from Avondale’s mortuary context.. They were distributed among three features, notably F-45, F-67, and F-68. F-45 was the grave of an adult male, while the other two were children. These correspond to placements in the 9CH875 and 9CH1168 assemblages, where coin use was greatest among children and males. All three Avondale interments were located in the northeastern quadrant of the cemetery and were placed adjacent to one another. It was possible that the inclusion of coins inside the grave was a family-specific tradition.
    To gain insight into how these coins were used, the assemblage was examined in terms of the coin’s type and form. The three decedents were buried with pennies or nickels. These represent the larger and heavier forms available among small-denomination coins; they were all paired and as noted, were found in close association with the eye orbits. These data imply that the desire for the dead’s eyes to be closed was a part of the burial community’s mortuary tradition. Features such as the interval between when death occurred and when the body was discovered, the time needed to plan the funeral, the time required to mobilize the necessary labor, and the time needed to obtain the necessary materials would have varied from death event to death event. These timing variations would have virtually assured that some aspects of the preparation and viewing of each body occurred during the initial decomposition phases. It would have been exceedingly difficult to permanently modify the dead’s posture during these phases. As a result, attaining the effect of a ‘peaceful sleep’ may have required greater effort for some individuals, particularly children, than was necessary for others. Use of coins for these individuals appeared to be a result of body treatment.
    All coins had corroded from exposure and surface details were difficult to discern. Readable mint dates indicated that the Indian Head cents were made in the late nineteenth century. While these specimens were too damaged to read, shield nickels in general were struck between 1866 and 1883. Notable pre-depositional wear was observed on all specimens, indicating that the coins had been in circulation for a while prior to their use in the funeral setting. These graves were most likely dug many years after these coins were minted. They do not represent death dates, rather the absolute minimum dates that these coins could have been deposited.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  7. Beads
    Beads are perhaps one of the more interpretable personal artifacts recovered from African-American interments. Among historic southern African Americans, beads served two primary, highly interlinked functions; they communicated social features about the individual and served as a focus for supernatural control over their environment. These ideas were inherently tied to belief systems in both the distant and not so distant past. Bead use has its origins in antiquity. The use and reworking of European-made glass beads were major material traditions of many African cultures well before the period of slave trade. Beads additionally served as a form of visual communication. They were used to convey aspects of the wearer’s social identity to the viewing audience. Specific colors and forms identified the wearer’s birth order, emphasized their gender and age, wealth, status, and sexual availability. These beads were worn where they were visible, generally around the neck, wrist, arms, legs, or waist.
    Beads were also recognized as receptacles capable of absorbing the physical attributes of objects, such as medicines, oils, and extracts, as well as metaphysical qualities, including protective, restorative, and prosperous magic. Their uses had strong ties in West Africa, where they were frequently used as charms. In regions where infant mortality was high, beads were among the objects used as charms to help protect mothers and children. Continuation of the bead use tradition has been well documented in the Americas, where slaves not only brought their concept of bead use to the New World, they may well have physically transported some beads themselves. In the Americas, beads were among the devices capable of accepting protective magic.
    Power in the bead was associated not only with its form, but also with its color. Blue offered the ability to ward off evil and to invite romance. Blue’s power was not limited to use in beads, but also included use in candles, architecture and even to decorate coffins. Black beads were worn to retard poor health. White seed beads were worn by women to signify and celebrate motherhood.
    Beads and bead use are more associated with the world of the living and their archeological representation is more common among domestic areas than in cemeteries. They are very uncommon as burial ground inclusions, usually represented in well under five percent of any assemblage. They tend to be more common in colonial and pre-Civil War contexts than in the later nineteenth century. Among post-Reconstruction period burials, bead inclusion declined in later period (>1890s) interments at the Freedman Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. Blue and black colored beads seem to be the prevalent colors identified during later period finds.
    When found in mortuary contexts, beads tend to accompany females, children, and conjurers. Beads used for medicinal purposes were usually worn around the wrist or neck. A string of blue, yellow, and black beads were recovered from an adult female at the Cedar Grove Cemetery in Arkansas. The African Burial Ground in New York City contained a single female and an infant, each with single strands containing numerous beads. An isolated eighteenth century African American yard interment from Charleston was interred with white, black and clear beads. Beads were overwhelmingly represented among adult and subadult females at the Freedman Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. Most of these beads were on necklaces and there did not appear to be a specific color preference. In contrast, black beads were found with a middle aged female at the Elko Switch cemetery and clear glass forms were associated with an infant. A single glass bead was reported with an adult female from the Phillips Memorial Cemetery in Texas. Blue, black and white beads were found on three adults and four children at 9CH875; several of these were accompanied with other objects interpreted as charms. By the post-Reconstruction periods, the symbolism and meaning attributed to beads may have diversified or assumed a more decorative than symbolic role in African-American material culture.
    Post-depositional forces shattered most of the 9BI164 beads prior to recovery; most counts therefore could only be estimated. No less than 204 beads were recovered from four interments (Table 6.24). All beads were small glass artifacts, commonly referred to as seed beads. They averaged about 1.5 to 2.0 millimeters in diameter. White, clear blue and black colored beads were identified. With the exception of F-55, bead colors were not mixed. F-55 was interred with both clear and blue beads.
    Use of beads in the Avondale mortuary context was exclusive to children. No adults or infants were noted with them. All beads were found around the collar regions and were distributed in patterns suggestive of necklaces. It is likely that these artifacts served to grant the wearer medicinal and supernatural properties, perhaps to overcome the malady which eventually took their lives. Graves containing beads were concentrated to the east central portion of the site, where they were either adjacent or in very close proximity to one another. It is possible that these graves represent a single family group and that the use of beads may have been an individual family tradition.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archeologist
    New South Associates

  8. Status of DNA Testing 1 – Sampling:

    The less than optimal skeletal preservation at Avondale has brought up some valid concerns about survival or organic materials inside the bone. We observed a considerable amount of leaching and pitting, indicating that water, bacteria and associated agents had worked themselves into the matrix of the bone and destroyed it substantially. In many cases there are no remains present to sample and in others, the bones and teeth are too badly decayed to provide any useable samples. We have been able to eliminate these compromised samples from the pool of potential DNA samples. We are currently looking at about 25 individuals, nearly all being adults, who have prospect for doing this type of study.
    Recall that teeth and bone are largely mineral deposits with a little tiny bit of organic material sealed inside cells scattered throughout the matrix. The presence of the hard tissue we call bone relays nothing about the preservation of organic materials within the matrix. It is entirely possible to have well-preserved bone with no surviving organic material within it.
    Dental tissue is denser than bone and therefore a little more resistant to water and bacterial action. There is a greater chance that organic material will have survived in it. Based on our macro-observations of skeleton preservation, the recommendation is not to try looking at the bone for DNA and focus our efforts on the dental tissue. Since dental enamel is a solid mineral deposit and contains (almost) no living tissue within it, it cannot be used to extract DNA. Dental roots are more viable sources for DNA.
    But of course it is not going to be that easy. In order to be able to extract DNA information, you need to be able to extract enough DNA to obtain it.,,,and this is where the preservation bugbear returns. Unlike living human subjects, the amount of DNA preserved in skeletal hard tissue is 1.) incomplete and will be represented in loose strands and 2.) the amount is unknown and can only be vaguely approximated. The sampling strategy will involve starting with a set amount of dental tissue, determining how much DNA is present and if necessary, will be boosted by adding a little more until an interpretable amount is obtained. The sample to be used is currently set at two teeth per individual. If preservation is so poor that not enough material can be obtained, the sample will be abandoned as too poorly preserved to continue.

    Mandibles were selected because they are large and dense (which means they will not ‘float’ within a flooded grave environment), easy to find (When you find the skull they should be under it), predictably located in the grave and skeleton (on the west side), easy to recover without touching (slide your trowel underneath and lift – no fingers are needed) and contain samples for both bone and dental hard tissue.
    All samples were lifted by the field director which means that any potential living person contamination has been minimized to one person. DNA Samples were placed in virgin buffered acid-free tissue and wrapped in fresh heavy-duty aluminum foil and set aside. They were touched by any other field or lab hands. In the recovery lab, each mandible was photo-documented before shipment, taking care to not touch anything and using latex gloves if handling was unavoidable. If needed the field director and lab handler can submit DNA swab samples to eliminate their genes from the pool. DNA will be extracted in the genetics lab. This will maintain the highest level of “prestine-ness” and help to further reduce contamination.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  9. Status of DNA Testing 2 – Analysis:

    First and foremost – There is no guarantee that DNA is present. This needs to be demonstrated before testing can continue. The first step involves replication of surviving DNA and if replication of existing DNA is not possible, bio-distancing (i.e. comparisons) cannot be done. Replication involves growing samples and lots of biochemistry. It is the most critical step in the sequencing process and unfortunately the most time consuming.
    Replication takes time – expect several months before we even have an answer. Once they get an answer about whether there is enough DNA to do anything, sequencing and comparison apparently will proceed relatively quickly. Once replication is done, the DNA lab can address which form of analysis will be the most appropriate. We should not anticipate hearing an answer back about the success of this until sometime in the late winter/early spring.
    If DNA extraction is successful, then we need to obtin samples from potential modern descendants. The lab’s opinion is that we should not even waste our time obtaining these until we know we have something to work with from the cemetery sample. Modern samples do not require the replication process (because the DNA is complete and the amounts present are known), so the turn around time is much faster.
    DNA extraction from living subjects is a little less lab intensive, but a little more paperwork intensive. Cheek swabs from family members involves living human subjects and falls under Human Subjects Review (HSR). Essentially the project must be reviewed by a board to determine if there are any ethical issues surrounding the collection and interpretation of data obtained from living subjects. Each living subject will submit an affidavit noting that the subject is aware of the sample, has not been coerced into providing it, and knows what and how the sample will be used. This is a big deal and bluntly it boils down to this – no form, no useable sample.
    A family tree for each living descendant sample, no matter how vague and uncertain it might be will be of great value. Family history will make a huge difference in knowing what will be the most appropriate DNA analysis strategy to use. Obviously if volunteers from several different families or diverse branches of the family can be found, that would be optimal.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  10. Status of DNA Testing 3 – Reporting:

    Unused material will be returned. If it is returned in time, we will integrate it with the appropriate burial for re-burial. If it doesn’t get back in time, we should either have it destroyed as medical waste, incorporate it into other examinations or inter it at the burial site. For this latter option, the best strategy will be to place it in a small container and deposit it in the same location that the surface-finds materials will be buried.
    For those of us who are genetic morons, we have to understand that we apparently stumbled onto a cutting edge query. This idea of using skeletal samples to tie them to African-American descendants – this is new and exciting stuff. The laboratory wishes to publish the results of this investigation in scholarly publications. The data collected (note this is not the samples, but the information extracted) will be compared with other archaeological assemblages, if and when they become available. This is an excellent climate for this type of African-American inquiry and a unique approach to recovering lost history. I personally cannot see this being a bad thing for the Avondale project.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  11. F-38’s Bullet:

    Bullets implicate a diverse and sometimes sinister range of important community features. They can indicate land use prior to grave deposition; they can imply levels of violence within the community; they may be part of the funerary ritual; and they can reveal post-funerary cemetery activities. While modern and antiquated spent shotgun shells were identified on the surface, a single spent 0.32-caliber bullet found adjacent to the right shin of the male in F-38 was the only round in the project area. While this may be evidence of violence, the bullet must be considered cautiously.

    In general, there are four ways that bullets end up in graves. First, rounds arrived prior to the cemetery’s existence. These bullets could have entered into the mortuary deposit as chance inclusions in the burial fill. Conversely, rounds could have been fired after burial. Their locations in the deposit would have been independent of the burial event. Third, these rounds may have been fired into the individual, representing episodes of injury or violent death within the community. Finally, bullets may represent meaning-laden objects placed with the individual as part of the mortuary ritual.

    Rounds fired and landing in the project area prior to use as a cemetery would have been randomly distributed (relative to the cemetery). They would have appeared in the grave fill, as well as the undisturbed soils around each grave deposit. The absence of spent rounds in the soils around the Avondale graves implied that this possibility was unlikely. Some communities discharged guns around burial areas to frighten away ghosts. However, in order to land beside F-38’s shin, the gun’s discharge would have enable the round’s forward motion to terminate at the interred body. The probability of achieving this feat of marksmanship probably verges on the improbable. Personally, I do not believe that F-38’s bullet resulted from pre- or post-burial activities at the burial ground.

    More likely, the round arrived with the individual. Clear evidence of gunshot trauma is not uncommon in post-Emancipation period African-American cemeteries and the possibility of a violent death has to be recognized as part of their world. Non-jacketed lead rounds, like those used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tend to deform when they enter the human body; deformation in the F-38 bullet implied that this round may not have traveled into the decedent. The tip of the round was undamaged, but the base exhibited an oblique strike against an object strong enough to have peeled back part of the dorsal rim. The most likely source of this deformation was from impact after the round lost velocity and started tumbling in midair. The force necessary to damage this bullet would have left a mark on the skeleton, however no evidence of trauma was observed in any of F-38’s bones. While the bullet could have entered F-38’s soft tissue after ricocheting, there is no evidence supporting this scenario.

    Another possibility was that this damage occurred after the round’s energy was spent. Similar damage can be seen in bullets that have been hit by rocks or run over by motor vehicles. The possibility that the object was found, conserved and buried with the individual must therefore also be considered. Like other mortuary inclusions, there may be symbolism involved; being a bullet may have been significant or a lead object, or a white/silver colored object. While no ethnographic precedence could be found, the possibility that this bullet was included with the dead cannot be discounted. While violence is implicated, the lack of supporting skeletal evidence for trauma in this well-preserved skeleton may be evidence of symbolic rather than violent behavior behind the bullet.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  12. Genetic Analysis Update

    We have received word from the molecular genetics laboratory examining DNA samples from the cemetery. Recall that the first steps involve assessing whether DNA has survived in the bone and can be generated to allow further testing. The first four samples have been completed and each had excellent DNA preservation, including nuclear DNA. The lab was so excited that they reported; “We rarely get samples with preservation this good. In fact it was so good, we had to double check to make sure we didn’t make a mistake somewhere” (They didn’t). From these samples, all four belong to an “L” haplogroup, which is typical of African Americans (and thus confirming archaeological and historical inferences of the cemetery’s community affiliation). If this preservation level remains consistent among the other samples, there will be few, in any, limitations on the type of genetic data that can be collected. We anticipate that comparisons with DNA samples from living potential descendants can be accomplished. We are extremely excited that this possibility may soon become a reality.

  13. Green Glass Pestle

    Pestles are objects used to grind or crush ingredients into smaller forms against a mortar. Mortars and pestles are commonly made from ceramic, stone, metal, wood, or glass. Their origins go into antiquity. A small aqua/light green glass pestle was recovered with the infant in Feature 56. It was made of solid glass and exhibited no bubbles, embossing or pontil marks. The pestle’s working surfaces and sides of the top were frosted, either intentionally or from extensive use.

    Glass pestles offered many qualities that made them desirable pharmaceutical tools. They were capable of withstanding considerable compressive force and were cheaper than those made from other materials. They were also easier to clean and they did not stain or flavor the prepared compound. Unlike other pestles, glass forms could be used to combine both liquid and dry compounds.

    Nineteenth and twentieth century pestles were generally manufactured and sold by the mortar’s capacity, usually expressed in dry ounces. The pestle from Feature 56 was approximately 84 millimeters long (3.25 inches). This length indicated it was designed to accommodate mortars with a less than six-ounce capacity. Pestles designed for kitchen use rarely were as small as this artifact; it is most likely that it was originally designed for medicinal purposes. Glass pharmaceutical mortars and pestles were common early and mid-nineteenth century appliances.

    The presence of a pestle in a mortuary context has not been previously recorded nor could any precedent be found in the available ethnographic literature. A variety of interpretations can be placed forward for its presence; these include use as a toy, as a teething ring or as a prop to help level the body or the coffin. Another possibility is that it possessed metaphysical qualities. As objects that crush curative substances, pestles were designed to come into direct association with medicinal compounds. Drawing an analogy from the way beads soaked in medicines and oils were believed to transfer restorative qualities to the afflicted, this pestle may have also been seen as a vehicle capable of transferring the healing qualities of medicine to the victim. The pestle, therefore may have served as a charm aimed at improving the infant’s health.

    Hugh B. Matternes
    Mortuary Archaeologist
    New South Associates

  14. Perforated1837 Half-Dime
    We received a shipment of materials back from the University of Oklahoma that emphasized why archaeologists examine every bit of soil that comes out of a grave. Nestled in the soil surrounding the DNA sample from a child was a small coin, barely half an inch long. Closer inspection revealed it to be a silver half-dime that had been pierced along one margin. The coin originated underneath the mandible, implying that it probably had probably been strung as a necklace around the child’s neck. This particular half-dime exhibited a seated liberty with no stars. It was minted in 1837, the first year that this half-dime form was produced. These dimes represent some of the first works produced by Chief Engraver for the Mint, Christian Gobrecht based on sketches drawn by Thomas Sully.
    The coin was made of silver and in its original condition it was white — the African color of death. When sunlight hit it, it would have shimmered, providing a glimpse into the spirit world. Silver was viewed as a substance capable of catching and containing spirits and magic. When worn as a charm, it probably served to protect the wearer. Pierced coins are most commonly found with women and children. They have been reported from a number of post-Emancipation era African-American cemeteries.
    While the 1837 mint date was nearly 25 years before Emancipation the child was also buried with the 1880’s era doll (described earlier), indicating that the child died well after being freedom came to the South. Retention of coins (and possibly tokens) marked with the holder’s date of birth was an African-American tradition, this date could not reflect the child’s age (2-4 years). This coin does not indicate the presence of a slave. The coin, and especially the perforation margins are extremely worn, revealing that it has been used as a charm for a considerable period of time prior to burial. This pattern has been noted among the Dallas Freedman Cemetery, where such charms were believed to have been inherited. Unfortunately there are no indications when the coin first came into the African-American community, but given that perforated coins are present in clearly slave period contexts. it is possible that it may have been an heirloom passed down from pre-Emancipation ancestors.

  15. Vanderpool’s Thesis and Prizes

    We are thrilled to announce that the project’s intern, Emily Vanderpool, has completed her Master of Arts thesis. As you may recall Emily participated in the field recovery and has been researching life in 19th century Bibb County for the last several years. She is a graduate student with the Department of Anthropology, Georgia State University, who plans to start her Doctoral Research this coming Fall. Emily’s thesis explores the use of biochemical markers to examine aspects of life and health in post-Emancipation African Americans. Isotopic analysis has seen extremely limited use in examining Reconstruction and Great Migration era communities and the results she obtained provide a unique view from the American South. An Abstract for Emily’s thesis is provided below. A digital copy of her thesis can be viewed or downloaded at

    Last week Georgia State University announced that a paper based on her thesis won Emily the OGRPA (Outstanding Graduate Research Paper Award) prize for research excellence. Congratulations Emily for a job well done!

    Vanderpool, Emily
    2011 “Bioarchaeological Investigations of Community and Identity at the Avondale Burial Place (McArthur Cemetery), Bibb County, Georgia” Unpublished Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Georgia State University.

    This study conducts a multi-isotopic bioarchaeological analysis of the Avondale Burial Place (McArthur Cemetery), a recently discovered Emancipation-era African American cemetery near Macon, GA. Stable isotopic analyses were performed on available dental remains in order to reconstruct the diet and demography of the individuals buried at the Avondale Burial Place (McArthur Cemetery). Specifically, δ18O and δ13C were characterized in tooth enamel and examined in tandem with collaborative osteological and mortuary analyses to reconstruct early-life diet and residential origin. The results suggest that members of the Avondale community buried in the Avondale Burial Place (McArthur Cemetery) did not experience significant mobility, but rather resided in the area for most of their lives. Overall, these results greatly contribute to the genealogical research of the Avondale Burial Place’s (McArthur Cemetery’s) descendants as well as the fragmented history of the South by exploring whether the individuals in this community took part in the Great Migration following the Civil War.

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