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Spotlight: Harriet Tubman’s Birthplace

WHAT THEY FOUND

Seidel and Ryan found many objects such as broken pottery and oyster shells throughout these areas. But the thing that excited them the most was a pit.

First, they found the pit in an area below the plow zone. The plow zone is the level of earth nearest to ground level. This is the area of soil that a plow would turn over. This meant two things: someone had dug the pit a long time ago and it hadn't been disturbed by people for a long time.

Harriet Tubman birthplace marker The pit contained melted metal — the kind of thing that would have been discarded from a forge. A forge is a work area where metal is heated and hammered into tools and other objects. The pit contained the discarded metal from this process.

Ryan and Seidel both knew that this was an important find. Outbuildings such as forges were most likely located near the main house on the farm. So, they knew they were in the right area to continue searching. They plan to come back to the site during the summer of 2002 to continue their quest.

QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN

Will they ever find the exact place where Tubman was born and lived as a young child? Seidel and Ryan aren't sure. If they are fortunate, they may find the remains of a slave quarter — a group of small buildings in which slaves lived. But, the Brodas farm was small. They may not have built a slave quarter. Slaves such as Tubman may have lived in barns or other outbuildings.

Even if the quarter was built, its remains may not still exist. Typically, slaves lived in wooden buildings supported at the corners by small piers of rock or brick. Over the years, the wood may have rotted. Even the piers may have been pulled apart or destroyed by farmers working the land.

But these facts have not stopped the two archeologists.

For Ryan, it is a personal odyssey. She had just finished an extensive excavation of the home Harriet Tubman was living in when she died. This home was located in Auburn, New York. It seemed natural for her to work on a site that holds clues to the beginnings of Tubman's life.

Seidel shares Ryan's enthusiasm for the project. He wants to know more about what life was like for slaves on the Eastern Shore-not only for himself, but also for all of us. It's one thing, he says, to look at history from a textbook. It's quite another to actually be able to see places and examine items that people in our past called their own.


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