Locals called it the “cemetery of the new blacks”, but in truth it wasn’t much of a cemetery. Devoid of headstones, wreaths or tearful mourners, this squalid harbourside burial ground was the final resting place for thousands of Africans shipped into slavery.
The new world greeted them with a lonely death in an unfamiliar land.
For decades the cemetery and those buried there between 1760 and 1830 were forgotten, hidden under layer after layer of urban development.
But 15 years after the cemetery’s fortuitous discovery – during the renovation of Petrucio and Ana de la Merced Guimaraes’s family home when builders unearthed a series of muddy skeletons – academics now believe they have evidence of the true reach of the slave trade.
The study of teeth from 30 partial skeletons has hinted that slaves arriving in Rio – many of whom were sold on to work in coffee and sugar plantations or gold mines – came from a much wider geographical region than once thought. Read more.
Geneticists, archaeologists and historians are joining forces to investigate the history of transatlantic slavery, in a €4.3-million (US$5.8-million) project launched today. The researchers say that the project is a unique opportunity to improve our knowledge of the slave trade, but warn that some of their results might be “uncomfortable”.
Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, millions of people from west and central Africa were captured and shipped across the Atlantic by European slave traders to a life of forced labour in the Americas. The subject has been well studied by historians, but one of the coordinators of the project, geneticist Hannes Schroeder of the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, says that there are still “large gaps in our knowledge” regarding the origins of the people captured as slaves, for instance, and how the slave trade operated.
The historical records are fragmentary,” he says. “For example, they tend to mention just the port of export, rather than the ethnic or geographical origin of the person. The idea is that by bringing in genetics, we get a different view.” Read more.