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UH Moment

UH Moment: Ken Brown

“I think all of archaeology is an attempt to reconstruct the past, but to do so, as much as possible, from the standpoint of those who lived that past.”


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When you visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., you'll find artifacts recovered by a UH anthropology professor.

"What you have here is a Catholic religious object that has been modified to represent a very West African view," said Prof. Kenneth Brown of the UH Comparative Cultural Studies department. "And if we're right about who wore it, then she was wearing it until her death in 1922."


Brown led the dig at the Magnolia Plantation in Louisiana's National Historic Park, a component of the Cane River Creole National Historic Park in Natchitoches Parish. There, beneath the slave and tenant homes, he unearthed the items that will be featured: shells with unique carvings, a locket that featured carved images, and a gold medal that was a heavily modified to resemble a Catholic Miraculous Medal. The traditional medal features a haloed Virgin Mary, light emanating from her hands, standing on the world, a single snake beneath her feet. Brown's discovery had some difference.

"Here, it's really accentuated and they're all around her feet, and the world is gone," he noted. "And have you ever seen the Virgin Mary with a scooped dress line? And that's no longer a halo, that's a headscarf."

Courtesy University of Houston

The items were found buried underneath the house of a woman known as Aunt Agnes, a midwife and curer.

"If this had been found in Haiti or in the Caribbean, I don't think there would be any question as to whom this would be interpreted as," he said. "It's a voodoo goddess Erzulie Freda, always connected with the Virgin Mary, and you can carry it back to Africa".

Miraculous Medal

Brown researches the influence of West African culture especially in southern African and African American communities– particularly on plantations. He's discovered the adaptation of European and Christian beliefs in both slave and emancipated communities.


"I think all of archaeology is an attempt to reconstruct the past," Brown said. "But to do so, as much as possible, from the standpoint of those who lived that past."

Kenneth Brown is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.

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