Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project Receives Mark E. Mack Community Engagement Award

As the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO), within the Office of Planning, heads to the annual Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference this weekend, we would like to share the special honor the Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project received back in January, at the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The project, organized by D.C. HPO staff, was the third place recipient of the 2016 SHA Gender and Minority Affairs Committee’s (GMAC) inaugural Mark E. Mack Community Engagement Award. Award recipients included the D.C. City Archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Trocolli, Assistant City Archaeologist, Chardé Reid, Mia Carey, Ph.D. candidate at University of Florida and Project Field Director, and Charles LeeDecker, Project Archaeologist.

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[L-R] Chardé Reid, Mia Carey, Dr. Ruth Trocolli, Charles LeeDecker. Courtesy of SHA

The GMAC Mark E. Mack Community Engagement Award honors those who exhibit outstanding best practices in community collaboration, engagement, and outreach in their historical archaeology and heritage preservation work. This award is named after the late Howard University Professor Mark E. Mack (1961–2012). As a professor of anthropology, he regularly encouraged students to work with the public, gave community lectures, and attended civic meetings. In 2005, he was approached by an Adams Morgan community member to conduct a survey of a historic African American cemetery located partially within the Walter C. Pierce Community Park, a District-owned property. Professor Mack and his students conducted much of the work pro-bono, over and above their school commitments. Along with community members, he lobbied for funding to investigate and commemorate the historic African American cemetery, earning him and his students a 2007 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation for Archaeology. Many of his former students on the survey team have gone on to successful careers or attended graduate school in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, or historic preservation. It is no surprise that former students of Professor Mack are part of the Yarrow Mamout project team.

The Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project was conducted between June and November 2015, in order to identify and evaluate the historical integrity of the Georgetown property that once belonged to Yarrow Mamout, a prominent African Muslim living in early 19th century D.C. The project was initiated following the concerns of the Georgetown community and James Johnston, author of the 2012 book From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family. The property at 3324 Dent Pl., NW was on the brink of redevelopment and had never been investigated. Although the D.C. HPO had no clear legal mandate to require the property owner to conduct archaeological investigations, the property owner granted permission for the pro-bono project. To provide operating funds, neighbors established an account for donations administered by the non-profit D.C. Preservation League, and raised over $4000. Donors came from various demographic groups, including ethnic, educational, socioeconomic status, political, and religious. The funds were used for equipment and supplies, and shipping artifacts to the lab for analysis, but the largest amount was spent on rental of a mini-backhoe and operator for deep-testing and backfilling. The D.C. Office of Planning also provided funds for lot clearing, supplies, and permits, as well as office space, and staff time. The archaeological survey included manual excavation of shovel test pits and test units, mechanical testing, geoarchaeology, ground penetrating radar, and 3D photogrammetry. The team provided twice-daily fence talks and tours of the property when on site. Throughout the survey, team members gave public talks to community groups and media interviews on the project.

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Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project Field Photos. Courtesy of DC HPO and volunteers.

The Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project collaborated with Masjid Muhammad, of the Nation’s Mosque of America, to hold a funeral prayer ceremony for Mamout on the property. The event drew over 100 people and offered the local community a chance to explore a property that once belonged to a known African Muslim as well as encouraged a safe place to engage in dialogue about the history and contributions of African Muslims. This is especially significant during a time when Islamophobia is rampant, and Muslims are being persecuted for the acts of radical terrorist groups. The participants were touched with the care and attention given to Yarrow Mamout’s former property, and positive message about Muslim contributions to US history.

The overall purpose of the project was to conduct public outreach, promote education, engage with the neighborhood and various communities, and to bring attention to the little-known history of black Georgetown and of African Muslims. The project would not have been successful without its numerous volunteers who contributed substantial amounts of time and effort. The Yarrow Mamout story could not have unfolded without their unwavering support. A special thanks to local residents, D.C. agencies, federal agencies, local Cultural Resource Management firms, Washington Parks and People, the DC Preservation League, Archaeology in the Community, as well as Dan Wagner of Geo-Sci Consultants, Inc., Elizabeth Wilson of Tomb Geophysics LLC and students from Howard University (HU) and Georgetown University.


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Yarrow Mamout Funeral Prayer Service at 3324 Dent Place, August 2015. Courtesy of Washington Post and DCHPO.

The Mark E. Mack Award was presented on Friday, January 08, 2016. The GMAC committee jury, who proposed the creation of the Mark E. Mack Community Engagement Award, included: Justin Dunnavant, HU alumnus and former Mack student, Dr. Florie Bugarin, HU professor, Dr. Chris Fennell, and Dr. Chris Matthews. Two papers about the project were presented at the conference.

The D.C. HPO would like to thank the GMAC committee of the SHA. The D.C. HPO would also like to thank all of the donors, volunteers, and community members who contributed to the project as well as Margaret Cheney, property owner, who ensured that the legacy of Yarrow Mamout lives on. We could not have done this without you!