Possible “earliest” slave remains found
and World Science staff
Researchers are studying remains of what they say may be some of the earliest slaves ever brought to the Americas from Africa.
In a paper to appear in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, T. Douglas Price and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discuss the findings.
The remains come from a a burial ground that turned up during construction at the Mexican port city of Campeche, which dates back to colonial times, according to the report.
Construction activities around Campeche’s central park led to the discovery of an early colonial church and an associated burial ground, the researchers wrote. These were “in use from the mid-16th century AD to the late 17th century.”
Several clues associated with the teeth of the buried individuals indicated that they came from Africa, probably West Africa, the researchers wrote.
They analyzed the teeth for their content of the element strontium, which can provide a record of where a person spent his or her early years. Different quantities of certain isotopes, or varieties, of strontium in the teeth are characteristic of different geographical areas.
The strontium isotopes found were inconsistent with an origin in Central America, but “consistent with an origin in West Africa,” the researchers wrote.
The teeth were also filed and chipped in a decorative manner characteristic of Africa, the researchers said. “These individuals likely represent some of the earliest representatives of the African Diaspora in the Americas,” they wrote.
They added that the slaves came from “perhaps near the port of Elmina, a principal source of slaves for the New World during the 16th century.” Elmina, in Ghana, was founded in 1471 by the Portuguese and was the first important European settlement on the Gold Coast.
The Portuguese made a fortune on gold and slaves in the area. Other European countries including Holland, England took notice and followed suit. The Europeans are believed to have often paid local tribesmen to raid other tribes for slaves, who were held in prison-like forts along the coast before being shipped out.
* * *
Send us a comment
on this story, or send
it to a friend