Seville House 16
In 1987, excavations at Seville Plantation, an 18th-century sugar plantation situated on the north coast of Jamaica at St. Ann’s Bay, were initiated by the Seville African Jamaican Archaeological Project. Led by Douglas Armstrong of Syracuse University, these excavations concentrated on two slave villages, one dating from the early-to-mid 18th century and the other dating from the late 18th-through mid-19th century. Houses 15 and 16 are located in the first-period African settlement of the plantation. These structures are located to the southwest of the planter's residence.
Excavations occurred at House 16 between 1987 and 1993. Archaeological features include structural postholes (F01-F15) and two types of flooring, marl (F17) and cobble (F20). Together, these architectural features confirm that this dwelling was constructed of wattle and daub . Armstrong discovered and excavated one human burial at House 16 (F16), which is believed to be the first African burial recovered from a house compound in the New World. Spatial distribution analyses indicate that the yard around House 16 was swept routinely. Both European and locally-made artifacts were excavated from House 16, and they represent a wide range of activities from food production and consumption to spiritual practices.
The early African village at Seville, where House 15 and 16 are located, is represented on a 1721 map of St. Ann’s Bay A portion of the 1721 plat of Seville Plantation showing the main house and early slave village. This map included a number of accurate details, such as navigational vectors used to guide mariners entering St. Ann’s Bay. In addition, the early map locates the village behind and upslope from the main house. Two linear rows of tightly spaced houses are arrayed along a road or path. The road heads south from the planter’s residence. This is the only identified map showing the location of the early village and the approximate locations of Houses 15 and 16 (Armstrong 1990, 1991).
A 1792 plat of the property shows a later village with houses clustered together, oriented independently, and with significantly more yard space between each house (Armstrong and Kelly 1992).
These maps are the main textual sources for Seville. In 1982, Armstrong conducted several oral histories with Mr. Carpy Rose, who was born in one of the last houses to remain standing in the later village. These interviews are discussed in a number of presented papers and publications (Armstrong 1990, 1991).
Excavation history, procedure and methods
Archaeological and historical research associated with the early slave village at Seville was initiated in 1987. It built on an initial survey of the area conducted by Armstrong in 1981 (Armstrong 1991). This early survey indicated that there were two distinctive village areas at Seville. Prior to that time only the more recent slave village was recognized. The later village is clearly shown on a map dating to 1792. It was assumed that an earlier 1721 map of St. Ann’s Bay (which at the time was misattributed by the National Library as being made in 1691), was thought to simply show the same village. In examining this map, Armstrong was able to determine that it was made in 1721. Based on this map, he decided to survey not only the area to the west of the planter’s residence, where ruins of a village were known, but also the area uphill and behind the planter’s house, as indicated on the map. Slipware, delftware, and local earthenware were present on the surface and Armstrong hypothesized that this may have been the location of an early village site on the property.
When the Seville African Jamaican archaeological project was initiated in 1987, the idea was to first define the boundaries of both slave settlements and then compare data relating to early and late residences on the property. An intensive walking survey in 1987 confirmed the findings from the 1981 survey: there were two distinct loci of slave occupation on the property. The area uphill and behind (south and southwest) of the planter’s residence was included in the preliminary walking survey, even though it was owned by the St. Ann’s water company rather than the National Trust. At the time, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust owned all of the other areas associated with industrial production and residential life on Seville sugar estate. When the study began in 1987, local farmers were in the process of expanding their banana fields into the area of the early village site. The project convinced them to expand in another direction and ultimately got support from the land owner for the protection of the property. This information was used by the JNHT to later acquire this area and include it in the heritage park.
The house sites were identified via a walking survey traversing the study area. The area defined as House 16 was selected for excavation based on the combination of surface indices which included a linear pattern of rocks suggesting the presence of a foundation, surface artifacts that dated to the late 17th and early 18th century (including slipware and delftware), along with the presence of local earthenware.
The objective was to define both the house structure and any associated features. Excavation was initiated with a single test unit then expanded for aerial coverage. A grid of 1-x-1 meter quadrats was laid across the site. Grid north was 35 degrees east of magnetic north. Excavation units were labeled using an alphanumeric system with each one-meter unit designated using a letter and number. Letters increase to the north and numbers increase to the west (i.e. C1, C2, D1, D2, and so forth). The southeasterly most quadrat at House 16 was C9.
In order to generate spatial distribution data that was compatible with DAACS, DAACS analysts assigned a new coordinate system, expressed as northings and eastings, to Armstrong's existing alphanumeric grid. DAACS established a datum (0/0 as opposed to A1) that was located to the south and west of the excavated area. Quadrat boundary data in DAACS for House 16 are therefore represented in the number of meters away from the DAACS datum, i.e. E9N1.
A total of 66 1-x-1 meter units were excavated at House 16. All units were excavated by hand and all sediment recovered was passed through screens with 1/8 inch mesh. Every unit was excavated following a combination of natural and arbitrary stratigraphic designations. Each level was dug to a maximum of 10 centimeters unless a cultural feature was encountered or until there was a natural change in soil color and/or texture. In most cases the upper 10 centimeters included a mix of materials that dated from the 17th century through the 20th centuries. The second level, 10-20 centimeters in depth, contained primarily early material culture. The third level was of variable depth and it was in this level that the foundations and features of the house were fully exposed. Given the slope of the hill, generally the northern units, or down-slope portions of the house site, had structural features that were exposed on or near the surface. However, features in the southern units, or upslope portions of the house, were covered with 20-30 centimeters of sediment.
Levels are represented numerically. For example, C11.1 stands for level 1 in unit C11. C11.2 stands for level 2 in unit C11, and so forth. In the original field records, 0 (zero) was used to represent surface levels. DAACS replaced the 0 with a "S", therefore C11.S in DAACS represents the surface level in unit C11.
Excavation within the house identified structural features such as foundation stones, post-holes (F01-F15), stone cobble flooring (F20), and crushed marl flooring (F17), as well as evidence of doorways. Evidence of a probable porch (post-holes without foundations) was found in the front yard, facing the path through the village. Evidence of a variety of features including hearths, crushed marl surface exterior courtyard flooring, isolated post-holes, and a burial, were found in the back yard. The edge of the yard for this house was defined by an increase in stones and artifacts away from the house and about half the distance from the neighboring house. A burial (F16) was also located in the yard and it was excavated to subsoil. All sediment from the burial was screened through 1/8 inch mesh.
The majority of the features identified at House 16 were postholes and postmolds (F1-F15). None of the identified House 16 posthole/mold features were excavated. As a result, there are no context records or artifacts associated with these postholes/postmolds. The features are also not represented on the site-wide Harris Matrix but the final site map and conversations with Douglas Armstrong indicate that the postholes were found at subsoil. The location and size of the House 16 postholes/molds were recorded on the final measured site map.
One area of the early village was later reused in the mid-19th century when a house thought to be associated with East Indian laborers was constructed. This later occupation, identified as a distinct later assemblage, overlays part of the early village. This East Indian household, defined as House Area 14, provides an important comparative base for studies of ethnicity and social cultural attributes associated with laborers on the property (see Armstrong and Hauser 2004). Fortunately, even though the site has relatively shallow stratigraphy, only two of the early African context house sites (Houses 12 and 13) were directly disturbed and even these two retained stratified contexts and sequential layers of house construction materials. Although only Houses 12 and 13 were directly impacted by this later 19th century occupation, the presence of these later contexts, along with other more casual discarding of materials in the area, accounts for more recent materials found in the upper layers of all house sites in the early village.
This same pattern of reconnaissance was used for all of the house sites in the early village with a similar procedure used for the later village. Excavation of House 16 was completed in 1988 with excavation and additional testing in the area continuing through field seasons extending to 1993.
Site plans and detailed photographic documentation was done for all excavated house sites at the early village. Dates were compiled in the field using field recording forms and transferred to a dBase 4 database in the field. The data were downloaded into AUTOCAD and SURFER in order to carry out spatial analyses. Much of the data was then compiled and analyzed using Lotus spreadsheet and graphs. Artifacts recovered from House 15 are curated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.
Summary of research and analysis
House 16 was the most clearly defined of the 20 house areas identified within the early African Jamaican slave settlement at Seville Plantation. The house was initially recognized in the 1987 survey due to the presence of a prominent row of rocks demarking the down slope (north) foundation stones of the structure. This type of stone foundation base was common at house sites at Drax Hall (Armstrong 1990); hence, it was easily recognized as part of our survey. More than forty-five probable house sites were defined during the initial survey of both early and late villages. Ultimately twenty houses were located in the old village. All of these house sites date from circa the 1670s to 1780s (Armstrong 2005).
House 16 was one of a series of houses lining the west side of a path leading up the hill from the planter’s residence, with industrial works and cane fields cane fields, and industrial works based on the observation of House area (see illustration in Scupin and DeCorse 2002:35 based on drawing by Armstrong). When excavation of the site was initiated in 1988, this was the first house studied. The foundation stones were followed to a point where it made an abrupt turn allowing us to define the corner of the building. It included a well defined two room house with a doorway and small porch on the east side, which may have been the formal entry side.
The house was approximately five meters by three meters and was built upon a foundation of rock and brick. The house was made of wattle-and-daub with a thatch roof. Post-holes for the structure were visible as dark circles of soil discoloration spaced relatively evenly along the outer foundation walls (between the foundation stones). The doorway was defined by a double row of rocks creating a step down from the house. The division of the house into two rooms is demarked by a series of post holes and by a differentiation of flooring material. One room has a rock floor that was covered by fine crushed limestone marl while the second room has some stone used to level out the house but is primarily a crushed limestone floor.
The doorway to the house faced the path in a manner consistent with the linear pattern found throughout the village. However, much of the activities associated with the house were actually in the yard, which is to the south and west of the house. As described by Armstrong and Kelly (2000) it is felt that the house itself provided a buffer blocking external supervision of household and community activities of the house. In the yard we found a hearth and evidence of post-holes that may have served a variety of functions related to household activities. Much of the yard near the house was covered with the same crushed limestone marl used to create the floor surface within the house. Thus, in a very real sense the house extended into the yard and much of the activities took place in that area. It was both practical in terms of the tropical environment and consistent with cultural practices to have a hearth detached from the formal structure but central to the activities of the yard, which is considered to be much like the outside courtyard activities commonly found in archaeological contexts such as Begho and Elmina in Ghana.
The yard-area itself was apparently swept clean of artifacts on a regular basis, with artifacts found most frequently near the foundation and at the outside edges of the yard. In fact, this pattern of cleared space bordered by artifact accumulation was used to define boundaries between house sites.
A significant find in the yard was the presence of a burial placed in a hole dug into the bedrock within the house yard compound. This burial (defined as SAJ-B1, known as Feature 16 in DAACS) was initially thought to have been within the house as it was found beneath the same crushed white marl flooring or surface material that was found within the southern room of the house. Upon closer inspection it was determined to be in the yard immediately outside of the house. Subsequent excavations uncovered three other house-yard burials in similar contexts associated with specific house sites in the old village (Armstrong and Fleischman 2003: 53). The House 16 burial contained materials that suggest a mid-1750s date of burial. The fact that the burial site was covered with a thin lens of crushed marl indicates that this individual was buried prior to the destruction of the house and that the house and yard continued in use, with probable new layers of marl surface coats applied to the yard and the house floors periodically. The individual was a male, who was between the ages of 20-30 at the time of his death. Osteological evidence indicate that he was of African ancestry and that he had some severe chronic health problems prior to his death. Pathologies of the bone suggest that this individual may have even been a paraplegic at the time of his death and that he had lived for some time with these conditions (see Armstrong and Fleischman 2003:53). The study did not determine a cause of death but does suggest that this individual was cared for by the community and the placement of the burial within the house-yard projects the possibility that this individual represented a special person within the community. These remains, along with the remains found in three other burials at Seville, were returned to the site following analysis and were reburied in 1997 in a formal ceremony (Armstrong and Kelly 2000).
Collectively, the burials from Seville provide important insight into the importance of the house-yard compounds to the life of the community. These areas represented one of the few spaces controlled and internally defined by the laborers. Burial in the yard is seen to tie with West African burial practices and to relate to behavioral practices of the community. The burial in the yard at House 16 was significant as it was the first African burial recovered from a household context. More recent studies, including research on the free black settlement on St. John, Danish West Indies, have confirmed this as a more general practice among persons of African descent in the Caribbean region (see Armstrong 2003).
Analyses of materials from this site are included in the DAACS database. Artifact analysis has shown distinct patterns of material use including reuse of items such as gun flint and raw flint for strike-a-light fire starters and the reworking of local and imported ceramics for gaming pieces. The distributions of artifacts around the edge of the yard suggest that the yard was a place in which activities of the household and community took place. Artifacts like ground cowry shells, local earthenware, and locally made tobacco pipes provide clues as to the importance of both continuities of African traditions and the generation of goods and trades by persons of African descent in Jamaica. Patterns of material use, including imported and local wares reflect a household with limited financial means particularly when compared with materials from managerial contexts at Seville. There is greater reuse of items such as glass bottles. This house and its neighboring house sites provide a solid picture of early life within a laborer household under conditions of slavery.
The study of Seville has been published in a series of articles that have addressed thematic issues relating to the plantation. These include an overview of the cultural landscape of Seville Plantation which focuses on the African Jamaican settlements and their interpretation through time (Armstrong 1999), a comparative analysis of the processes of internally defined transformations within society (Armstrong 1998), landscapes and settlement patterns in relationship to social relations (Armstrong and Kelly 2000), house-yard burials (Armstrong 2000, Armstrong and Fleischman 2003), and comparative studies related to the material record of race, ethnicity and labor conditions (Armstrong 1998 and Armstrong and Hauser 2004). Comparative analysis of African and East Indian laborer contexts are presented in Armstrong and Hauser 2001 and 2004. In addition, details related to a refined analysis of temporal contexts using both mean and variable measures of variance from the mean using whisker plots is described in a methodological paper (Armstrong 2005). Now the DAACS database is presenting detailed analysis of selected sites on the property so that data can be compared and shared. Several recent conference papers that use Seville data are available through the DAACS website's Current Research page (Galle 2007a, 2007b; Nelson, Neiman, and Galle 2007). With this renewed interest in the project related to the DAACS project, a synthetic analysis of the project is being prepared by Armstrong and Mark Hauser.