- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) | University of Maryland archaeologists have found what they think is one of the earliest examples of the spiritual traditions brought to North America by African slaves. The bundle of sand and clay, packed with metal bits and a stone ax, is thought to be about 300 years old.

The object appears to be an example of African religious practices and not a later mix of African and American practices, said University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone. The discovery also shows “an unexpected level of public toleration” of spiritual displays around 1700, said Mr. Leone, who directed the project.

The archaeologist noted that other African spiritual items found in Annapolis date from at least 50 years earlier and are thought to have been used in secret, while the object found in April is thought to have been openly displayed in front of a home.

Annapolis’ newspaper at the time, the Maryland Gazette, was filled with accounts of English magic and witchcraft, so African and English spirit practices might have also been tolerated, the archaeologist said.

“English witchcraft in this period existed openly in public and was tolerated,” Mr. Leone said. “It’s intriguing to speculate how English and African spirit beliefs may have interacted and borrowed from each other.”

After 1750, references to witchcraft and magic disappeared from the newspaper, indicating the changing philosophy of the times, Mr. Leone said.

The archaeologists think the bundle containing hundreds of pieces of lead shot, pins and nails was used to ward off spirits. The bundle went on display Tuesday at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, which is devoted to African-American history and culture.

The bundle was thought to have been wrapped in cloth, leather or hide with the stone ax protruding from the top. Researchers think the 10-inch-high bundle was placed in the gutter because running water was believed to carry spirits.

The dig was conducted before a project to lay utility cables in an area that was once part of the city’s early waterfront. The bundle was found 4 feet below street level in the city’s historic district, about 1,000 feet from the State House.

Mr. Leone said that after consulting with experts on West and Central-West African culture, he thinks the bundle may have origins in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea among Yoruba or Mande speakers.

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