Day 5: The Ultimate Riddle
Again, Tropical Storm Andrea has kept the rain right above us here in Charlottesville, VA. Today was originally scheduled to be the Monticello Field School’s fieldtrip to the archaeological excavations in the Coastal Plane. On the original agenda was visiting the excavations at James Fort, on Jamestown Island, the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The fieldtrip also included a visit to the excavations at the Bray School Site (an eighteenth century African-American school), but due to the rain, Dr. Neiman was able to move our trip to Monday but unfortunately without the Bray School visit on the agenda.
The lecture this morning brought a lot of fascinating information and theories to the table; it dove deeper into the multiple facets of archaeology, which included functionalism. The lecture began on the topic of household archaeology when there are no houses. Households are defined as a unit of economic and social cooperation, and are formed through cooperation, co-residence, and enterprise. In the case of slave houses however, cooperation was not necessarily founded under any one roof, co-residents formed communities of practice, and thus created and a community through mutual engagement in a joint enterprise defined and sustained through practice, these communities developed out of ways which people participated in actions whose meanings are negotiated with others (cooperation). Functionalism, a term taken from cultural sociology, into archaeology, in hopes of creating a new field where how people worked and lived in the household setting is determined from the artifacts found. Each individual person in a society may have different takes on what is happening around them. Households are natural social and economic communities, cooperation should naturally occur, but no framework of cooperation for when people choose to cooperate or when they refuse not to. This brings into play the Prisoner’s Dilemma attributed to John Nash (see chart below).
It breaks down into an individual chooses between cooperation or defect, their choice is effected by the other individual’s choice, and the payoffs are symmetrical. The lecture went into the deep mathematical material needed to work out the probability, interactions, and payoffs, which I will not cover in this blog. The key concept of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the overall success of the defection will spread throughout the group (or community) and the defectors will takeover- yet, this result does not have the community’s interest at heart. A population of defection has a payoff of one, whereas a population of cooperation has a payoff of 3, ultimately causing the community to get the worst payoff.
Similar to today’s community formations (i.e. diaspora communities), several mechanisms for correlation in the Prisoner’s Dilemma can be found, and easily understood. Kinship, or “kin selection,” meaning if my best friend chooses to cooperate, I will choose to cooperate as well. Direct Reciprocity, meaning the conditional cooperation based on personal experience, such as a group of friend choosing the same strategy in order to purposefully correlate with one another. Indirect Reciprocity, is the conditional cooperation based on social reputation, a simple example is gossip, knowing other’s social reputations before deciding to defect or cooperate with them. In the case of slavery, most of them had been ripped from the original kinship networks of their home countries. The slave process also randomizes people in the slave community together, into new, forced communities. So how can enslaved people re-establish cooperative bonds within their community?
Finally, here we start to come full circle to the previous material of the fieldschool (and the blog), to the sub-floor pit (“Hidey holes”) occurrences in the Chesapeake region and the reasons behind them. Slaves were placed with unrelated individuals in housing, meaning random interactions, and cooperation was formed through social reputation of others behaviors, these pits represent one way to make other people’s reputations known (holding someone accountable if they stole from your sub-floor pit), and that in turn makes cooperation with others easier. In the case of multiple pits, the slaves chose not to share a single pit, again because it was a random grouping, making the reputations of others (cooperation or defection) unknown. An enslaved person would likely trust the community to stop someone from stealing from their pit, or holding them accountable, then risking sharing a pit with a random individual whose reputation is unknown.
From here the lecture transition into house size and cost. At Monticello, Jefferson began as a tobacco farmer and housed his slaves in multiple large log cabins near the tobacco fields, and later when he switched to wheat farming, he began to place his slaves in multiple smaller log cabins. Partially this was for farming convenience of the smaller wheat crops, but it was also for economic purposes. Three smaller log cabins took 262lbs. of Chestnut wood to build, with dimensions of total perimeters of 156ft. and a total area of 96ft, the single large log cabin took 675lbs. of Chestnut, 504ft. total perimeter and 504ft of total area. Rather than build three small log cabins, Jefferson knew it was logically cheaper (by 111lbs. of Chestnut) to build one big structure for his slaves and group them together at random as tobacco working gangs. Later, when Jefferson switched to wheat farming, he allows the slaves to live in the smaller, more expensive to build houses, and in these smaller houses the sub-floor pits simply disappear. Is this because the slaves were allowed to choose who they had to live with, of course choosing people they trusted or were related to, or is this one of the incentives Jefferson offered if the slaves behaved without an overseer (his wheat fields were too far placed and Jefferson did not want to have to hire more overseers =$$)? If the slaves behaved, could they have been allowed to choose who they lived with?
Now we drift back into the subject, household archaeology without the houses, and creating a research design focusing on an archaeological spatial structure. For our example, we used “Site 8" which dates from 1770-1800 here at Monticello. Through correspondence analysis can be combined into a single stratified sample, meanin one concise data representation from 266 five-foot excavated quadrats. In order to effectively analyze the data collected from each quadrat, this correspondence analysis is necessary. Correspondence analysis takes six dimensions and shrinks it down into more manageable data for us as archaeologists to use and make inferences, but also for future archaeologists to observe.
The data that was seen from the 266 excavated quadrats presented fascinating images to hypothesize about. Within Site 8, a north and a south community are present. These two communities move further and further apart on site, yet share similar ceramic popularity. This could represent two families simply expanding or just shared trade networks of two separate communities. So far in the southern group no pits have been found yet or they don’t have them, whereas the north group has pits and the size of them increases over time. The ceramic remains (sherds) found across the site, in both the north and the south, provide some very compelling evidence as well. The ceramic density is larger in the North area of Site 8 and small in the south, the ceramic artifact size is small in the south (small sherds) and large in the north. Ceramics are bigger in the south but found in larger quantity in the northern area of Site 8. This could suggest a difference between yard maintenance attitudes between the north and south communities. Perhaps the north cleaned up their space and properly disposed of their trash, and the south did not. Ceramics is not the only instance where this correlation occurs (remember, consistency is key for archaeological science). Whole nails are found in the south area (didn’t clean up) and broken nails are found in the north.
To close the day, we stated our tentative conclusions about Site 8. We believe the southern community to be an early occupation date, and the north to be a later settlement. Later on in time, the north group moves further north, building bigger, separate sub-floor pits. The south group has no pits. This may be a sampling error, a sign of poverty, or a sign that they were the dominating community between the two. There is no site maintenance in the southern community, they were collectively messy, and acted as though they may pick up and leave tomorrow (vs. what may be settled families in the north community). Are these simply transient individuals or a high resident turnover rate? Only time will tell. The fun part (and somewhat frustrating) about archaeology, is that all of these observations and inferences about the Site 8 north and south communities could be absolutely wrong, and tomorrow may hold the find to answer the riddle. SO WE DIG!