Black History Unearthed in Timbuctoo, N.J.

Archeologists from Temple University discover a 200-year-old city once home to free blacks and escaped slaves beneath a hill in New Jersey.

Washington Post


By DeNeen Brown


TIMBUCTOO, N.J. -- In Timbuctoo lies a hill. Underneath that hill lies a house, or what archaeologists think might have been a house once upon a time. The silver clasp of a woman's handbag, piles of Mason jars, chips of dinner plates and an empty jar of Dixie Peach Pomade lie among the bricks that have broken away from the foundation.

These are crushed fragments of a past life when free black people lived in this New Jersey community almost 200 years ago -- free even then, 45 years before emancipation. "Most of the history of this country is in that house," says David Orr, a classical archaeologist and professor of anthropology at Temple University. Orr is standing at the site down a gray road in Timbuctoo. A hot wind is blowing.

Orr says that the buried community has the potential to be a very important find in African-American history: "Timbuctoo is great in a larger context because it lasted, some of it, into the 20th century. It also has a very large descendant community, so ethnographically, it is important."