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Finding Freedom: Exploratory Archaeological Investigations at the Free African American Site of Pandenarium (36ME253), 1854–1930s

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Abstract

In 1854, 63 free African Americans arrived at Pandenarium (36ME253) in northwestern Pennsylvania. Archaeological investigations at the site bring to light the narrative of the freed African Americans who settled there, often countering local stories of its history. Supplementing archaeological methods of inquiry, earlier historical research with analysis of light-detection and ranging (LiDAR) data, aerial photography, and historical mapping developed a more robust context in which to understand better the people of Pandenarium. Collection of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data, shovel test-pit excavation, and test-unit excavations uncovered the remains of multiple generations living in a place of changing meanings and spatial layout. Landscape and ceramic analyses highlighted the lives of African Americans living at Pandenarium, helping us to move beyond earlier narratives built on secondhand accounts inferring the inhabitants’ inadequacy and race as key factors in the dissolution of the community.

Resumen En el año 1854, 63 afroamericanos libres llegaron a Pandenarium (36ME253) en el noroeste de Pensilvania. Las investigaciones arqueológicas en el sitio sacan a la luz la narrativa de los afroamericanos liberados que se establecieron allí, a menudo contrarrestando los cuentos locales de su historia. Al complementar los métodos arqueológicos de investigación, la investigación histórica anterior, combinada con el análisis de datos de detección y alcance de la luz (LiDAR, por sus siglas en inglés), fotografía aérea y mapeo histórico, se desarrolló un contexto más sólido para comprender mejor a la gente de Pandenarium. Con la recopilación de datos de radar de penetración de suelos (GPR, por sus siglas en inglés), la excavación de pozos de prueba con pala y las excavaciones de unidades de prueba, se descubrieron los restos de varias generaciones que vivían en un lugar de disposición espacial y significados cambiantes. Los análisis de paisajes y cerámica revelaron más sobre las vidas de los afroamericanos que vivían en Pandenarium, ayudándonos a ir más allá de las narrativas anteriores construidas sobre relatos de segunda mano que infieren la insuficiencia y la raza de los habitantes como factores clave en la disolución de la comunidad.

Résumé En 1854, 63 Africains-américains libres arrivèrent à Pandenarium (36ME253) dans le Nord-Ouest de la Pennsylvanie. Les fouilles archéologiques sur le site mettent en lumière le récit des Africains-américains libérés qui se sont installés ici, venant souvent contredire les anecdotes locales sur leur histoire. Les méthodes archéologiques complémentaires d'enquête, la recherche historique antérieure, en combinaison avec l'analyse des données de détection de la lumière et de mesure à distance (LiDAR, light-detection and ranging) et la photographie aérienne, ont conduit au développement d'un contexte plus solide dans lequel on peut mieux comprendre la population de Pandenarium. La collecte de données géoradar (GPR, ground-penetrating radar), le sondage à la pelle et les fouilles de périmètre-test ont mis à jour les vestiges de générations nombreuses ayant vécu sur un site dont les significations et l'aménagement de l'espace montrent une évolution. Les analyses de terrain et de céramiques ont mis en lumière l'existence des Africains-américains ayant vécu à Pandenarium, nous permettant ainsi de passer outre les narrations précédentes façonnées à partir de récits de seconde main suggérant que les insuffisances et la race des habitants sont des facteurs clés dans la dissolution de la communauté.

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Acknowledgments:

The research, both in the books and the field, could not have happened without the support and guidance provided by the faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, especially from our mentor, Ben Ford. Our thanks go out to the descendants of the families, the Davisons, and those that live there now, the Heini family, who have supported the years of investigation at Pandenarium. Rev. Barksdale-Hall’s persistence in telling the story of the people that lived there continues to push this narrative in all its many nuances. Many graciously gave their time and labor: Joe Baker and Scott Shaffer, and volunteers from local groups, including, but certainly not limited to, Mrs. Ruth Woods and Mr. Bill Black. We would also like to extend our appreciation to the Historical Archaeology editorial staff to include the peer reviewers for their thought-provoking comments and guidance. Our families continue to support our archaeology habit with love and patience, and we owe them a debt we are unlikely ever to repay.

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Jaillet-Wentling, A.S., Taylor, S.E. Finding Freedom: Exploratory Archaeological Investigations at the Free African American Site of Pandenarium (36ME253), 1854–1930s. Hist Arch 55, 329–352 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-021-00289-1

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