In the early 1990's, the coffin of a colonial-era African was unearthed in lower Manhattan in a place now the National Park Service African Burial Ground. The coffin was decorated with an "enigmatic, heart-shaped design" which some understood to be a sankofa, a West African funerary symbol. The striking design was powerful enough to become a part of the official African Burial Ground granite memorial, but it's origins and meaning are still contested.
Erik R. Seeman, author of the forthcoming Death in the New World: Cross-Cultural Encounters, 1492-1800, weighed in on the controversy in yesterday's New York Times:
In an interview, Erik R. Seeman, the historian whose new study treats
the sankofa claim skeptically, acknowledged that his argument could be
politically fraught. In his article, published in the January issue of
The William and Mary Quarterly, he makes a point of emphasizing his
belief that African influences did play a major role in the lives of
early black Americans — although generally as part of hybrid