Another Lesson that Provenience Matters: The Little Manatee River Drum found in 1967

Uzi Baram
Director of the New College Public Archaeology Lab and
Professor of Anthropology, New College of Florida

Provenience and Provenance

Students of archaeology wrestle with the terminology for artifacts. In the very useful about-com, K. Kris Hirst offers the debate over the terminology: provenience is “the precise location where an artifact or archaeological sample was recovered archaeologically” while provenance is “the detailed history of where an artifact has been since its creation” ( but recognizes that the overlap can be confusing. One focuses on the archaeological record as the context for an artifact, or assemblage of artifacts, while the other traces the chain-of-ownership for an object. Provenience matters, as the example of the drum from the Little Manatee River can show.

During the search for material evidence of the early 19th century maroon community known as Looking for Angola (see my essay on the project in the October 2013 Time Sifters Archaeology Society Newsletter, one particular artifact haunted the research process. We know little of Angola beyond the growth of the maroon community in the aftermath of the battles at the Apalachicola River (1816) and Suwannee River (1818) and the destruction of the settlement in 1821, just as Spain handed Florida over to the USA. The archaeological traces by the Manatee Mineral Spring suggest the connections among British filibusters, Cuban fishermen, and Seminoles with the maroons but the material culture is mundane, consisting of the mass-produced ceramics of the era. There is one notable exception. Jane Landers in Black Society in Florida (1999:232) published a black and white photograph of a drum with the caption: “African-inspired mahogany drum found in the bank of the Little Manatee River.” That drum, featured on the cover of the recent Africa in Florida: Five Hundred Years of African Presence in the Sunshine State (edited by Amanda B. Carlson and Robin Poynor in 2014), could be a substantial contribution to revealing the African heritage of Gulf Coast Florida.

Could be.

The drum is made of wood, mahogany as Professor Landers (1999: 232) noted in Black Society in Florida. Today, mahogany is rare in Florida but Swietenia mahagoni is native. And we know that drums are important in the history of the enslaved rising up to gain freedom because they were outlawed.  So an African-inspired drum is significant for locating the maroons, self-emancipated people of African heritage, sometime called escaped slaves. While the drum is evocative, the provenience limited interpretation. Now stored at the Florida Museum of Natural History the artifact, cataloged as E183, has received only minor attention (the museum has a file listing all who requested information on the drum – it is a thin file). Florida is famous for its wet sites, with many examples of amazing preservation of wood and other organic materials. So preservation through the centuries is possible for the drum. But without archaeological dating, one can reasonably propose a range from the earliest African settlements in Florida to mid-20th century craft production for the tourist trade and its history is not known. Why?

Link to the full story here: Baram 2014 Little Manatee River Drum for Time Sifters

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