At a former Georgia plantation, archaeologists delve into both the workaday and spiritual lives of slaves

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On the northern end of Ossabaw Island, three former
slave cabins sit in a perfect row˜remains of a
plantation that predates the Revolutionary War. Dan
Elliott stands next to the cabins one morning, near
palm trees silhouetted against the gray sky. For five
weeks he has been digging inside the cabins. Now he
has set his shovel aside.

Wearing a blue-striped train conductor's cap and
dirt-stained jeans, he holds the handle of a
ground-penetrating radar device that looks like a lawn
mower. At its base is a small black box that emits
radar, and attached to the handle is a laptop
computer. Elliott is an archaeologist and the
president of a nonprofit archaeology firm called the
Lamar Institute, based in Savannah. On his computer
screen is a map of Ossabaw from the year 1860. It
shows six additional slave cabins in the same row as
the three still standing today. He hopes the radar
will detect the buried foundations of the vanished

As he pushes the device across the grass, a readout
like that of a seismograph during an earthquake
appears on the computer screen. Elliott, a soft-spoken
Georgia native, breaks into a broad grin. "The ground
is crawling with objects," he says.

The artifacts that Elliott has unearthed may give new
insight into how the people who lived here as long ago
as the 1700s endured slavery and retained their
African traditions. Ossabaw may be "the gold standard
for understanding slave life on the barrier islands,"
Elliott says.

Somewhat surprisingly, he's the first archaeologist to
break ground on the 250-year-old plantation.

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