Science Traces Barbados Slaves to Different Regions Of Africa

‘We knew from historical records that the plantation was worked by African slaves,’ says archaeologist Dr Hannes Schroeder who led the research while working for his PhD at the University of Oxford. ‘But now we have a method that enables us to identify first-generation captives among the burials and to trace their origins back to their native Africa.’

… from Planet Earth Online: Caribbean slaves came from different regions in Africa

Newton Plantation graves yielded tooth and bone samples

Copper bracelet from a slave's grave.

Copper bracelet from a slave's grave.

When does taking a body from a grave become an “archaeological dig” instead of something a little less acceptable?

My great-grandfather was born before “flying machines” were invented, but before he died he watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. I never knew my great grandfather except through one old black and white photo. By all accounts he was an ordinary man who led an ordinary life, produced a few children and worked hard when work was available. He went to church and was probably loved by his family and friends and (as it says in the Bible)… “then, he died.”

All the people who knew him are gone now too. I was told where he was buried, but the wooden marker is long since gone and so are the people who could say with any certainty exactly where he rests. As far as the church plot map goes… it’s gone!

So my great grandfather has disappeared, or rather he remains where he was buried and we as a family have forgotten to remember where he is.

Would it matter if someone dug him up to learn about our past through his bones, teeth and burial clothes? Would it be disrespectful if it were done next year? In ten years? In a hundred years? When does a grave change from hallowed ground into something else?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I’d like to think that our ancestors who were kidnapped from home and family in Africa and brought in chains to Barbados would be pleased to know that we remember them and want to know where they once called home.

More background about slave burials at Newton Plantation at the African Diaspora Archaeology Network


Filed under Africa, Barbados, History, Slavery

4 responses to “Science Traces Barbados Slaves to Different Regions Of Africa

  1. J

    This is news???


  2. I’m an archie buff myself.

    We are told that the Gullah in South Carolina were brought over from Barbados subsequently. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is one of them. The food archaeology here being practiced in Barbados, if also done in South Carolina, might be able to tell to what degree the Gullah are Bajan (flying fish diets?) or Jamaican etc.

    The article also mentions genetics, which has as a bonus practical medical applications. Blood type antigens have been mentioned here recently; and we might also be able to see if life on Barbados has killed off certain genetic profiles and allowed others to prosper. This could save lives down the road.

  3. Who’s My True Ancestor
    When I was young they told me
    How my paternal great granddad was an ecky-becky (poor Whity)
    On my mother’s side I had an Indian great grand
    She married a half breed Chinese man
    My name was taken from an American Lord
    Yankee man who travelled by ship with slaves aboard
    They said he was originally from Scotland and crossed
    Regularly from coast to coast selling men at minimal cost
    Under the many gene pools that tainted my blood
    East to West, all kinds of manhood
    Am I to contend that from my dark colored skin
    None of these races have any part within
    Can it be that I am chiefly a Black
    Ethnically linked to a more African track
    Should I refuse the many other tributaries
    That converge to form this present man from the West Indies
    Or can we not be so devoted to race but rather to blood
    Race divides us, humanity unites us, so which do you think I should?

    No offense intended by any Bajan terms used above.

  4. Passerby

    Give credit to the man who opened up Newton as a site for archaeology, and who first involved scientists working with anthropologists and historians to explain the slave past– he is an American called Jerry Handler, now retired but still publishing. He spoke at the Museum in July