Oldest cemetery of African slaves found in Canary Islands

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An international team of investigators has confirmed that the unique cemetery discovered in 2009 in Santa Maria de Guia, in the Canary Islands was indeed the oldest cemetery of slaves on the Atlantic sea coast, dating to the 15th and 17th centuries.

Oldest cemetery of African slaves found in Canary Islands
A team of investigators believe they have found the remains of the earliest victims of the slave trade, between Africa 
and Latin America, after a site was excavated in the Canary Islands in 2009 [Credit: EPA]

The slaves are thought to have come from different parts of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, revealed the DNA study of the 14 men and women buried in the archaeological site, according to the study released by the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The cemetery was found near an ancient sugar plantation “with funerary practices that could be related to enslaved people,” as such practices had never been recorded on the islands before.

Oldest cemetery of African slaves found in Canary Islands
The remains on the site are thought to date back to the 16th century and testing by research teams, from 
universities in Britain, Spain, Peru and the US, unlocked the identity of their origins [Credit: EPA]

About 12 million Africans were forcefully brought to the Americas between the 16th and 19th century in order to work as slaves in large plantations, mostly sugar cane ones. But this well-known true story actually started before Europe invaded Africa, also using African slaves in the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Madeira in the sugar cane industry.

Although researchers found many references to this reality, they still failed to find any evidence until now. But eight researchers from universities in Spain, the U.k., Peru and United States, along with the Tibicena archaeological company confirmed the existence of a slave cemetery, thanks to analysis of ancient DNA, stable isotopes, and skeletal markers of physical activity.

Oldest cemetery of African slaves found in Canary Islands
DNA was extracted from the bones of the skeletons and revealed that the group was made up of a Canarian aboriginal 
woman, four black men and another six bodies belonging to native groups of Europe and Africa [Credit: EPA]

Most of the skeletons studied revealed that the slaves died in their 20s, with injuries in the column, suggesting “a pattern of labor involving high levels of effort” — about the same physical markers found in slave plantations in South Carolina, Surinam and Barbados.

The team is now looking for funds so they can continue digging, as they expect much more than 14 bodies buried in the cemetery.

Source: TeleSur [January 19, 2017]

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