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  • The Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital: Excavations in Annapolis
  • Christopher N. Matthews
The Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital: Excavations in Annapolis. By Mark P. Leone (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005) 320 pp. $39.95

Leone's The Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital reviews the two-plus decades of archaeological research that he has undertaken as director of the Archaeology in Annapolis project. The book covers the issue of ideology, specifically possessive individualism, the primary ideology of capitalism. Leone develops a critical archaeology that has the potential to create new forms of social understanding. His aim is clearly lofty, but he marshals a wide variety of evidence from archaeology, historical documentation, oral history, community engagement, and reflection to realize it, as well as to trace his own failures and successes in both theory and practice. His reflexive professional maturation is the glue that ties the use of varied source material together.

The book investigates how activities that seem beyond the reach of ideology are the basis for reproducing capitalism: seeing and walking (shown in the archaeology of landscape); reading and hearing (an archaeology of the print shop that produced the Maryland Gazette); and sitting, eating, and telling time (an analysis of ceramics and similar common household artifacts). Leone argues that the archaeological record is defined by its opposition to ideology. Its very creation is a by-product of the refinements required to produce what seems natural. Archaeology consists of what was culled to meet necessity and what was buried to build things considered desirable. The archaeological record is thus both the partner of the documentary record as well as the very actions that produce a normal life. The issue that confronted Leone was the failure of his findings to generate a social understanding of ideology. Leone realized midstream that archaeology, as any other modern pursuit, was based on the burial of certain aspects of itself in order to generate a legible product. He redesigned his work to recover archaeology's capacity for excavating the forces that produced American liberty, which meant understanding how people lived with and countered violence. For Leone, African-American archaeology can show how to work against ideology.

Leone's approach is novel within historical archaeology. Long mired in efforts to make the archaeological record represent Africans in America, the discipline never bothered to see that Africa was part and parcel of all of America. He makes his point through an interpretation of the African spirit bundles hidden under floors where enslaved, and later emancipated, African Americans worked and lived as domestics. The bundles consisted of a variety of objects intended to direct spirits to fix, or harm, someone—in Leone's view, masters. He also shows that these bundles were a component of conjuring that defined entire spaces, as illustrated by a cosmogram formed by a series of caches found under a kitchen. This phenomenon showed Africa in America not simply because it involved people of African descent who retained African spiritual [End Page 319] traditions, but because Americans inhabited these spaces. Their meanings may have been dual (African and white) in one sense, but Leone argues that this duality blurs the unity revealed in the single set of archaeological objects. There is one American culture, and it is more African than typically acknowledged.

Leone elucidates his critical archaeology by referring to "the insight [that] comes through seeing how different something familiar can be when it is in another's hands, thus showing the artificial and arbitrary way the dominant society has arranged its relations between peoples" (236). He forged alliances with African Americans seeking control of their past to establish political positions required for democratic action. He learned that the practices associated with the spirit caches in Annapolis are still widely practiced in African America, and that the practitioners are also devout Christians. He explains that Christianity and Hoodoo are not mutually exclusive but that their hybridity reveals the initiative of those dispossessed and exploited. Working with an African American educator, he began to teach students that "archaeology is theirs to learn and use" (259). This educator teaches an Afrocentric archaeology that has only tenuous scholarly support...


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pp. 319-320
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