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PhD Candidate Rebekah Planto's Article is Published in Post-Medieval Archaeology

Shoes and small items Rebekah analyzed in her article. Photo by Rebekah PlantoIn December 2021, Post-Medieval Archaeology, a journal dedicated to promoting the cutting-edge works in historical archaeology, published an article by Rebekah Planto, a PhD candidate at William & Mary’s Department of Anthropology. Rebekah derived the article from her excavation finds at the Allen plantation site in Surry County, VA. These findings are a part of Rebekah’s doctoral dissertation project that aims to offer insights into the practices and relationships instrumental to British imperial expansion and colonization in the 17th-century Atlantic world. Rebekah’s research builds on a legacy of archaeological investigation at the Allen plantation site  to reveal more material, social, and political relationships and their complex configuration throughout the colonial history. 

 The Allen plantation site is known to many people as the site of “Bacon’s Castle.” Before the acquirement of the site by Preservation Virginia (APVA) in the 1970s, the space had undergone multiple re-configurations in spatial relationships since its first day of construction in 1665. These transformations were reflected in architectural modifications on the Bacon’s Castle by different social actors in history, and the modifications generated salient archeological traces such as the establishment of an extant quarter occupied by enslaved families and later free African American tenants. The mundane life in the space also left traces that are less salient, e.g., glass pieces, grain husks, shoes, and buttons. In Rebekah’s article, she takes on both lines of evidence, which were recovered in the 1980s but have not been previously catalogued or analyzed. Rebekah explores probable signs of “ritual concealment” discovered among objects. For instance, Rebekah finds it interesting to examine old shoes retrieved from the site. Shoes are commonly associated with the practice of hiding one’s intimate object to protect one from the evil in the cultural-historical context of the Atlantic world. Other than items that have a clear cultural indication e.g., shoes, Rebekah also suggests that other small items, whose cultural significances are less clear, also offer a semiotic portal for researchers to investigate the broader affective engagement between things and people. However, the lack of consistent connections between these archaeological findings requires archaeologists to use more imagination in their interpretations. Instead of adopting the traditional approach of tracing the origin of archaeological objects in a prescribed classification system of cultural types, Rebekah experiments with the idea of assemblage by focusing on the possible interactions between discovered items and social actors in history. This innovative approach allows Rebekah to see how these small things forgotten, with their material power, constitute the social life in the Allen plantation site and reveal about the broader social stratification in Virginia from the 17th century to the 19th century. The article is currently only available for the journal’s subscribers. To know more about Rebekah’s new findings, please click here to check the webinar provided by Preservation Virginia.