Archaeologists find early US relic of African worship

October 23rd, 2008 - 2:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 23 (IANS) Archaeologists have dug up what is believed to be one of the earliest US examples of African spirit practises.”This is a remarkably early piece, far different from anything I’ve seen before in North America,” said University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone, who directs the ‘Archaeology in Annapolis’ project.

“The (clay) bundle is African in design, not African-American. The people who made this used local materials. But their knowledge of charms and the spirit world probably came with them directly from Africa,” he added.

“We’re particularly intrigued by the placement of this bundle in so visible a spot, because it suggests an unexpected level of public tolerance,” said Leone. “All the previous caches of African spirit practices we’ve found in Annapolis were at least 50 years younger.”

“These had been hidden away and used in secret. But in this earlier generation, the Annapolis newspaper was filled with references to English magic and witchcraft, so both European and African spirit practices may have been more acceptable then. That changed with the growing influence of the Enlightenment.”

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

The Maryland team discovered the football sized bundle four feet below Fleet Street in the Annapolis historic district - about 1,000 feet from the Maryland statehouse.

It sat in the gutter of a much earlier unpaved street on a hill overlooking an inlet. Water would have run down the gutter, making it a vital conduit for spirits and a strategic spot to place a powerful charm, Leone said.

X-rays reveal the bundle’s contents - about 300 pieces of lead shot, 25 common pins and a dozen nails. The blade of the stone axe points upward, according to a release of University of Maryland.

The bundle appears to be a direct transplant of African religion, distinct from hoodoo and other later practices blending African and European traditions.

Leone dated the object to about 1700, plus or minus 20 years, from a period when English beliefs in witchcraft could mingle more openly with the African.

After consulting with experts on West and Central-West African culture, Leone said the bundle might have origins in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea among Yoruba or Mande speakers. It may have been fashioned in the image of a god and energised through its construction to invoke and disseminate spiritual power.

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