By David Gulliver
Professor Uzi Baram’s month-long excavations in the heart of east Bradenton may have produced more traces of the historic Angola community of maroons, early 19th century freedom-seekers who struggle against slavery. And the project definitely produced a trove of opportunities for New College students.
Baram, professor of anthropology at New College, and a team of professional excavators recently completed an excavation at the Manatee Mineral Springs Park, before Bradenton’s Riverwalk transforms the landscape. The Park will be the eastern terminal of Riverwalk, and gave Baram and his team a $100,000 grant to fund the search for archaeological insights into the many histories by the spring.
On January 15, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the researchers opened the site to the public and gave guided tours of their work.
“Ever since I was able to open the New College Public Archaeology Lab 10 years ago my commitment has been to radical openness,” Baram said. “We wanted to make sure people could see the process of excavation and picked a meaningful day when school kids could come, a day dedicated to peace and justice, to allow the public to come and see how we are revealing a history of freedom and liberty.”
More than 150 people toured the dig and saw how the researchers excavated the area’s history, bit by bit. The excavations removed the soil centimeter by centimeter. While near the surface were twentieth-century artifacts, beneath was the remains of the Village of Manatee, the first Anglo-American settlement in the 1840s. Deeper, though, they turned up post holes, the foundation of 1800s buildings, hand-wrought iron nails, blue “feather-edged” pearlware and pipe bowl stamped by the manufacturer, Noel a Lyons.
Jessica Ganzer, an archaeology graduate student from University of South Florida, explained that sailors and traders would travel from French-controlled New Orleans along the Gulf of Mexico, leaving behind objects that they used and then discarded, like the clay tobacco pipe bowl fragment. Jason Brown, a descendant of Angola who ancestors fled to Andros Island in the Bahamas in 1821, explained the meanings of excavating where his ancestors once walked.
All in all, Baram’s archaeology team recovered more than 35 boxes of artifacts, soil samples, and wooden pieces as well as hundreds of pages of notes and photographs now housed in the Public Archaeology Lab. “Next fall, we’re going to do the hard work of archaeology – cleaning, identifying, cataloging analyzing and interpreting these artifacts,” Baram said. They could be the basis for a lab class in the fall term of 2020.
The recovery provides “an opportunity for our students for hands-on, primary research that services multiple communities, form the people of Bradenton to the descendants of Angola, some of whom come each summer for a Back to Angola festival,” Baram said. “The lab work is when they’re going to have the chance to integrate the objects with the stratigraphy, the finds with the history, and the story of the many communities by the spring with the heritage of this region. That’s the goal: working step by step to reveal the heritage beneath our feet.”
For information on the long-term research project and photographs from the January excavations, visit:
— David Gulliver is interim associate director of the New College Office of Communications and Marketing.