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Levi Jordan

On the Shell and Bone Carver's Cabin

Excerpts from published articles.

From Brown and Cooper's 1990 "Structural Continuity in an African-American Slave and Tenant Community" (4).

The so-called African craftsman’s cabin (II-A-3) produced a variety of items which form the "ethnic identifiers" discovered within the slave and tenant cabins. The tools for manufacture of the drilled shell artifacts and a number of blank shells of a variety of fresh and salt water types came from this cabin. Given the large number of fresh water mussel shells located in this cabin (an item not found in other cabins), this individual may have worked shell for other artifacts, such as buttons. In fact, a number of shell and bone buttons from the quarters appear to be "homemade". In addition, at least one apparent "store bought" button, recovered within the deposits of the quarters, was found to have had a six-sided star carved into one of its surfaces. Such a symbol is found on African and African-American ritual objects (Thompson 1983). Evidence for this craft production is found from the base of the below-floor deposit through the abandonment level.

The following excerpt is from Kenneth L.Brown's "Material Culture and Community Structure: The Slave and Tenant Community at Levi Jordan's Plantation, 1848-1892." (2).

The bone and shell carver produced a variety of items that form a majority of the "ethnic identifiers" discovered within the deposits of the slave/tenant cabins. That is, recovered within the deposits of this cabin (slave: II-A-3; tenant: I-B-3) [a diagram of these cabins will be included on this web site in the future] are tools for the manufacture of carved shell and bone objects along with a number of unfinished carved objects. Included here is a flat sandstone cobble, shell ‘blanks" for carving (including both fresh and salt water species) [The plantation was about 14 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and the Jordan family visited the seacoast from time to time. See Sallie Jordan’s diary when excerpts are included here in the future], several knives, files, a metal punch, two small drills, a small saw blade, and grinding and shaping tools made of bone. While a number of the shells appear to have been employed in the production of buttons, many are not of the type generally employed for this purpose. Culturally modified [see definition of culture] coquina, whelk, snail, clam, and cockle shells are found in fairly large quantities throughout the archaeological deposits, although they are not evenly distributed and their function is currently under investigation. Further, at least four of the "store bought" shell buttons recovered had a six-pointed star carved on one side at some time after it arrived on the plantation. Examination of the button demonstrates that the star was worn facing to the inside. That is, the pentangle [five-pointed star] was not visible while the button was being worn.

A total of twelve pieces of carved bone and one elaborately carved shell "cameo" have been recovered – all from the abandonment levels in their respective cabins. Four of these pieces are simply carved and have been found in a context that suggests they may have served as "oracle bones". Three are flat, carved pieces that may have functioned as hair pins. One is a pendant made from the spur of a fighting cock. The other four pieces are intricately carved and appear to have functioned as a single object – probably a fly whisk. The spur necklace and the fly whisk were found within the so-called political leader’s cabin. The "oracle bones" were discovered within the magician/curer’s cabin. The hair pins were excavated from the seamstresses’ cabin (2) and the munitions maker’s cabin (1). Finally, the cameo (6) was unfinished and found within the abandonment deposit of the shell carver’s cabin.



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