Museum focuses on archeology

WEIRTON – Helping to kick off Black History Month, the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center hosted a discussion on African-American archeology in West Virginia Saturday.

The presentation, which accompanied the unveiling of a new museum exhibit on the history of Dunbar High School, was led by Heather Cline, lead curator of the Grave Creek Mound Archeological Complex.

Cline explained while most may not think about slavery taking place in West Virginia, it did exist and more evidence is being found across the Mountain State.

She discussed several significant sites found in the last 30 years, including several in the Eastern Panhandle and in the Charleston and Huntington regions.

“They are there, they’re important and should be recorded,” Cline said, explaining most of the known sites were excavated because of commercial and residential development in the area.

Cline explained at its height – around 1850 – there were approximately 20,000 slaves in what would become West Virginia, with many rented out for work in salt mines and other industrial settings.

“The Eastern Panhandle and Kanawha River Valley actually had some of the highest populations,” Cline said.

Cline said unlike pre-historical archeology, the study of African-American archeology offers written documentation of where and how people lived. This helps when studying a particular site, she said.

“You can look at the historical record and compare it to the archeological record,” Cline said.

Cline discussed several sites in Berkeley, Greenbrier, Kanawha and Cabell counties as part of the presentation, including Arbuckle’s Fort, the Jenkins Plantation, Willow Bluff and the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park.

She noted some of the items that have been found at these sites, such as buttons, ceramics, folk items and charms such as coins inscribed with an ‘X,” which Cline said may have been derived from older African spiritual beliefs.

Cline also noted from 1990-91, Shepherd College performed a survey of African-American cemeteries, locating 90 possible cemeteries and related sites in West Virginia.