Northeast Historical Archaeology


The definition of what constitutes a Virginia slave quarter based on archaeological evidence is evolving. In the 1970s and 1980s, archaeologists developed an informal set of criteria that equated subfloor pits and the presence of "Africanisms" with structures occupied by enslaved people, and these criteria are still widely used. The accumulation of an archaeological and architectural data set of more than 170 Virginian quartering sites over the past 40 years has demonstrated that these sites vary across time and space, has underscored the problematic nature of site definition based on a checklist approach to ethnic or racial criteria, and has highlighted the challenges of inter-site comparison. We compare three quarters dating to the Revolutionary War and Post-Revolutionary periods. Our comparison underscores significant differences, as well as similarities, that existed between them and raises analytical challenges. Understanding variability and exploring alternative methods for site interpretation are important goals for the future. Employing analyses such as minimum vessel counts, assessments of richness, and abundance indices for artifacts, along with soil chemistry, ethnobotanical data, and landscape organization to understand historical landscapes, may prove to be more reliable methods of identifying quarters than relying on the presence or absence of certain features or artifact types.