Banneker Site (18BA282)
The Banneker Site (18BA282) is the 18th-century home of Benjamin Banneker
in Baltimore County, Maryland. Known as America’s first African American
man of science, Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught astronomer and
mathematician, author of six almanacs, and an assistant in the original
survey of Washington, D.C. The Banneker farm, where he lived between
1737 and 1806, consisted of two wooden dwellings with cellars from two
periods, an orchard, a fence, and a cemetery where Benjamin Banneker
and his family are buried.
The Banneker Site has yielded valuable information about the life and
material culture of Benjamin Banneker, an important figure in American
history, but it has also provided details about the lifestyles of free
African Americans living in Maryland during the 18th and early 19th
In 1979, Charles Wagandt and a group of local citizens began to search
for Banneker’s house and grave site. As a part of this effort, Ralph
DiMino excavated an eight-by-eight-foot test unit at one possible
location, but uncovered no evidence of the house site. In 1982, Wagandt
and others unsuccessfully investigated three additional areas that were
reported to be the Banneker house site. Wagandt then requested that the
Maryland Historical Trust conduct an archaeological investigation to
locate the Banneker homesite and associated cemetery.
In 1983, the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks purchased
a portion of the original Banneker property to establish a commemorative
park. That same year, Robert J. Hurry conducted a three-month-long Phase
I archaeological survey of 72 acres owned by Banneker at the time of his
death. Systematic shovel testing within the tract located three clusters
of 18th- and early 19th-century artifacts, which were determined to be
the archaeological remains of the Benjamin Banneker farmstead.
In 1985, 393 shovel test pits were dug at 20-foot intervals to define
artifact concentrations and site boundaries. An additional 56 shovel
test pits were excavated at 10-foot intervals to further define four
activity areas, Areas IA-ID. Forty-one five-by-five-foot test units
were excavated in the four activity areas to collect additional artifact
samples and to identify subsurface features. Only a small number of
features were excavated in 1985. A remote sensing survey was also
conducted using proton magnetometry and ground penetrating radar,
but it was not useful in determining the location of possible features
at the site.
In 1986, an additional 103 shovel test pits were dug at 10 foot intervals,
and 49 test units were excavated to refine the boundaries of cultural
activity areas and investigate subsurface features in Areas IA-IC.
Features 10 and 22, the two cellar holes, were partially excavated
during this season, with Feature 10 appearing to represent the first
Banneker dwelling on the site. The vast majority of the Banneker Site
has been preserved for future research.
Over 28,000 artifacts were recovered from the Banneker Site, with the
majority associated with the Banneker occupation. Artifact analysis was
used to detail not only how Banneker’s family lived as free African
Americans in a plantation society, but how Benjamin Banneker’s lifestyle
changed during his life. In addition, this analysis revealed Banneker’s
status compared to other landowners, and his household’s participation
in the local and regional economies.
For the minimum vessel analysis, 277 ceramic vessels were identified,
representing utilitarian, dining, and drinking wares. Further examinations
suggested that Banneker utilized significantly more ceramic vessels when
he lived alone in the later structure on the property than when he lived
in the earlier dwelling with his mother and siblings. The 33 glass bottles
recovered were of various sizes and functions. Only four table glass
vessels were recovered. One spoon, two forks, and five knives comprised
the tableware objects found at the site.
Faunal analysis suggested that the Banneker household’s diet also changed
over time. Animal bones included the remains of domestic species, such as
cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens, and wild varieties, such as white and
yellow perch, box turtle, and oysters. This analysis, combined with historical
research, suggests that prior to 1760 the Bannekers depended on wild species
and animals raised on their farm, but purchased more food at the local store,
Ellicott & Co., after that date.
Other recovered objects reflect various activities that occurred at the
Banneker homesite. Nine slate pencil fragments, a possible slate tablet,
and a ground glass lens for a telescope or other optical instrument represent
some of the objects that Banneker probably used for his scientific
Archaeological Collections in Maryland)