Tracing Slaves to Their African Homelands
From Caribbean sugar plantations to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena, researchers are unlocking the long-kept secrets of enslaved peoples.
More than twelve million people crossed from Africa to the New World as slaves. Historians know a good deal about the African ports where they embarked, the slave ships that carried them across the ocean, and the destinations of these enslaved peoples.
But they know surprisingly little about where in Africa these masses of people originally came from.
Now, thanks to recent advances in genetic techniques, scientists are filling in this important gap in the tragic African diaspora.
“This will change our understanding of population and migration histories,” says Hannes Schroeder, a biological anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen. “What was just potential is now being fulfilled.”
One example comes from a 17th century cemetery on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of St. Martin. When archaeologists