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 traditions.