(CNN) – Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky knew her team was lucky.
It is one thing to uncover a 300 year old archaeological site. It’s an entirely different matter if this page is almost intact.
The researchers discovered slave quarters in Newtowne Neck State Park that once housed a Jesuit plantation in southern Maryland. The slave quarters may date from the 18th century. The site may also be related to the history of the slave trade at Georgetown University.
“This is a very rare and exciting find as we don’t have any similar types of sites,” Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the State Highway Administration’s Maryland Department of Transportation, told CNN. “There was so much potential to eradicate this, but miraculously, after so many years, we still have evidence of their homes and their lives.”
Highway administration archaeologists and researchers from St. Mary’s College in Maryland made the discovery earlier this month. According to the motorway administration, the team began digging on the site on October 19.
“The Jesuits were very productive in their records, but the enslaved African-Americans who worked in the fields and served the Catholic Church survived very little,” Schablitsky said in a press release. “If there has ever been a place in Maryland where cultures come together to find freedom of religion in an environment of conflict, sacrifice, and survival, this is it.”
While the slave quarters were buried underground, the ground around them had not been eroded, which helped preserve the site. Schablitsky told CNN.
“It’s a complicated geology, but the land hasn’t been plowed in a while,” she said. “If the ground had been plowed, he would have buried the place deeper and deeper. But the ground remained intact.”
Researchers have already found a George II coin from 1740. They plan to make other discovered artifacts available to the public.
Archaeologists plan to make discovered artifacts available to the public.
Courtesy of Dr. Julie M. Schablitsky
What we already know about the enslaved people who lived here
Archaeologists weren’t the only people there when they started digging. They were joined by descendants of some of the 314 enslaved humans sold by Georgetown University in a major slave sale in 1838 (slave records only count 272 slaves because children were excluded from that list).The university had sold the slaves to cover part of their debts. The sale supported the school, which had endowment assets of over $ 1.5 billion in 2015.
“It’s very emotional, mental, and physical,” Rev. Dante Eubanks, pastor at the New Covenant Christian Worship Center, told CNN. “It’s almost as if you are overwhelmed by such a spiritual connection.”
Eubanks, along with a priest from St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, presided over a prayer and blessing on the site before the archaeologists began digging.
The lack of eroded soil around the site meant that the slave quarters were well preserved.
Courtesy of Dr. Julie M. Schablitsky
When archaeologists first discovered the slave quarters, they invited members of the GU 272 Descendants Association to be there.
“These are her ancestors,” Schablitsky told CNN. “It’s important that they are a part of it. They’ll come in with a perspective where they ask questions we wouldn’t even think about.”
Eubanks, who was there with a handful of other offspring, called the experience “an honor”.
“It is very surreal and very moving to be able to walk through the country where your potential ancestors worked, lived, endured and survived,” said Eubanks. “It gives everything a completely different perspective.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong year when a major slave trade took place from Georgetown University. It was 1838. It also explains why Rev. Eubanks was there; It was supposed to bless the site before archaeologists started digging.