Winner of the Southern Anthropological Society's prestigious James Mooney Award, Uncommon Ground takes a unique archaeological approach to examining early African American life. Ferguson shows how black pioneers worked within the bars of bondage to shape their distinct identity and lay a rich foundation for the multicultural adjustments that became colonial America.Through pre-Revolutionary period artifacts gathered from plantations and urban slave communities, Ferguson integrates folklore, history, and research to reveal how these enslaved people actually lived. Impeccably researched and beautifully written.
The uncommon ground in the title of Ferguson's highly provocative book is that which yields up evidence of African Americans during the pre-Revolutionary period. The discussion of archeological findings that elucidate how these enslaved people actually lived is so surprisingly engaging and accessible that at times this reads like a detective story, with one tantalizing clue leading the author to yet another. Recovered potsherds tell of economic interrelations between plantation slaves and Native Americans and of the too-little-recognized common thread between the extermination of Native Americans and racism against blacks. Toys and house sites allow examination of daily life. Utensils dug from the ground illuminate the slaves' diet and foodways. Ritual objects open up a discussion of African slave religion. Ferguson also tracks the differences in slave lifestyles between coastal South Carolina and tidewater Virginia. In the end, he concludes that, although the slave-owning whites may have held political and coercive power, they depended for survival on the practical knowledge and skills of their African American slaves. Ferguson proves his case that archeological research helps us envision the contrast between the world the slaves built and the European/American culture that they rejected. Ferguson is a professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina. Illustrated. (Jan.)
This robust, wide-ranging book advances African American archaeology as a fresh field for unearthing early American slaves' shrouded culture. Integrating research in artifacts, folklore, and history, Ferguson explores black lifeways along the south Atlantic coast. He focuses on South Carolina with its early black majority and its several excavated low country sites to unveil layers of complex social exchanges that made American plantations work. His provocative results project crafty black pioneers working within the bars of bondage to shape their distinct identity and to lay a rich foundation for the multicultural adjustments that became colonial America. This scholarship from the ground up is fascinating stuff; lay readers and experts alike interested in early America, blacks, or material culture will want to read this book. Highly recommended.-- Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y.
School Library Journal
YA-- An examination of the American archaeological past and the emergence of the African-American field of study. Ferguson provides an account of a fictional slave's typical day, and the rest of the book reveals how this information has been pieced together over the past quarter of a century. Written in layman's terms, the book not only relates information about this field, but illustrates how it is done in reality as well as in theory. History students will enjoy this book for its informational content and for its revelation of how history is not set in stone, but changes and grows as we discover more about our past.--Hugh McAloon, Frederick, MD