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.
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 archeological 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.
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 archeological company confirmed the existence of a slave cemetery, thanks to analysis of ancient DNA, stable isotopes, and skeletal markers of physical activity.
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.