On another small island, in postholes of another two-room plantation house, Chenoweth's team discovered a whelk shell plugged so that it could be used as a container. Next to it they found fish bones, pins and the bones of a Puerto Rican racer snake.
Chenoweth thinks the shell, which would have held the bones and pins, had a spiritual purpose of sorts. It appears to have been inserted into the foundations around 1740 during a remodeling. Similar objects, called "witch's bottles," have been found at sites in England and America. "It has a long history in England and something that seems to be connected to pre-Christian spiritual practices," he told Live Science.
Objects like these are "seen as an effort to protect the house against bad magic basically, spirits and spells that might seek to harm some of the occupants of the house," Chenoweth said.
Placing the snake bone, which symbolizes something negative, in the shell could have magically canceled out the negative power that the creature represents, he noted.
This plantation was in use from 1720 until about 1780. The slave village is about 150 feet (46 meters) away and would have held no more than 20 slaves. This plantation produced mainly cotton, and, curiously, historical records indicate its owner was a member of the "Religious Society of Friends," also known as Quakers, a group that tended to stay away from rituals and ritual objects.
The two islands are located a few miles from Tortola, the seat of the British Virgin Islands government. The plantations are now part of private property, and the landowners prefer the name of the islands not be released.
The British Virgin Islands are "a beautiful place that many people visit for its culture,arts, and natural environment. I'm hoping that my work can help highlight the unique history of these islands from a plantation past, to freedom, to the modern vibrant society the people of the (British Virgin Islands) have created," Chenoweth said in an email.
Chenoweth reported the team's finds recently at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Austin, Texas.
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