Crystal Linked to West African Traditions

Possible Nkisi Object

A Multi-Cultural Talisman

In 1994, it was identified by Carroll’s Hundred archaeologists as a possible nkisi object or slave artifact with West African symbolism.  Since then, the large quartz crystal in the site’s artifact collection has become a talisman for Carroll’s Hundred’s historic multi-cultural community and an important turning point in our approach to its interpretation.  Before this time, artifacts from the site had been viewed primarily as sources of information about the Carroll family. 

African-American Focus

The crystal suggested that material culture (artifacts) discovered in archaeological sites away from the main house was just as likely, or more likely, to be a reflection of the indentured or enslaved community.  Today, rather than as the sub-text offered at many historical sites, Carroll’s Hundred’s multi-cultural diversity, and particularly its African-American legacy, provides our central theme guiding all of our research and planned interpretive programs.

American Nkisi

Carroll’s Hundred is not the first or only historical site in the U.S. where nkisi crystals (plural minkisi) have been unearthed during archaeological excavations.  By 1994, crystals had been found at at least five other east- coast sites, including Monticello, Poplar Forest, the Charles Carroll House in Annapolis, and at Manassas.  Since then, there have been many more discoveries – all appear to suggest a connection with traditional African spiritual practices. 

West African Traditions

The Carroll’s Hundred crystal was originally excavated beneath a corner of the foundation of the original kitchen (now razed) – possibly from an earlier, pre-1750’s building.  The Carroll’s Hundred crystal was part of what appears to be a cache that included bits of Chinese export porcelain and pieces of clear glass.  This is consistent with other finds where crystals were buried together with objects that were often clear, blue, or made of bone or shell.  In all instances, the objects appear to have been buried together deliberately – not merely discarded.  The tradition of burying such objects has strong parallels with West African spiritual practice.  For instance, the Fang people of Cameroon in Equatorial Guinea would bury sacred charms beneath a house as a protection from evil spirits.  A tradition of the Congo was to collect ritual materials or minkisi to serve a variety of ritualistic purposes, including medicinal cures and as sacred divination objects.

African Spiritual Endurance

The crystal from Carroll’s Hundred is a piece of local Maryland quartzite that has been flaked by hand.  One of the most important objects ever found at Carroll’s Hundred, its exact origin may never be known precisely, but the piece is strikingly similar to some Native-American bifaces or stone cutting tools.  One theory suggests that local Indians still in the area may have bartered or traded the piece to African American slaves working for the Carrolls.  Whatever the crystal’s origins, its burial beneath the kitchen floor with other possible ritualistic objects is strong evidence that enslaved Africans at Carroll’s Hundred sustained themselves with spiritual traditions that had survived the Middle Passage, but which were forbidden to be practiced openly.