The history of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to Latin America still remains as a mysterious period.
The Current Biology has published a study of how scientists tell the stories of three 16th-century Africans slaves were identified by their bones from a mass burial site in Mexico City.
“We were touched by their stories and everything they went through. They were the first-gen enslaved Africans, and they were abducted. You’re seeing all these maltreatment signatures on the bones that came with this abduction, what they suffered for the rest of their lives”, said Barquera.
Rodrigo Barquera is a graduate student at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. He and his team are hoping that their findings will help sharing stories of enslaved Africans as well as solving the problem in the identifies of Mexicans.
COLONIAL MEXICO’S ROLE IN THE TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
The high demand for enslaved manual laborers and establishment of the first European settlements in what’s referred to as the “New World” spurred the growth and consolidation of the transatlantic slave trade, which forcibly deported 10.6 to 19.4 million Africans from their homelands until slavery was abolished meo in most of the Americas in the 1860s, the study reported.
Africans were thought to have higher immunity to these diseases compared to indigenous Americans and Europeans, which made them desirable workers.
Five centuries later, the study said, hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans form a large part of Mexico’s genetic and cultural heritage.
FINDING THEIR BONES
The skeletons of the three individuals were recovered from the mass burial site in the grounds, then transferred to the Osteology Laboratory at the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico.
“So we were wondering if we could do a more detailed study on these three individuals, trying to tell the whole story of what happened with them and why they were found in this mass burial,” said Barquera.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE BONES
The researchers constructed portraits of the lives of the three enslaved Africans using genetic analyses, ethnohistorical information and osteobiographies.
Three individuals were named SJN001, SJN002 and SJN003. They lived around 1436 to 1626 during the Colonial era in Mexico City.Their genetics suggested they were of Southern or Western African origin before being transported to the Americas.
Based on evidence of the bones, SJN001 died when he was around 24 years old. His bones showed that he was anemia and malnutrition, also parasitic infections and blood loss. His clavicle also showed new bone development associated with repetitive use and have been reported to be found among people that carried heavy loads on their shoulders.
SJN002 was about age 25 when he died. He had abscess in a molar, as well as periodontitis and signs of bones that were broken and fractured, then healed. A machete wounded his skull. He suffered skeletal changes as a result of intense and gradual compression on his spinal discs.
SJN003 was also around 25 when he died. Lesions on his skull indicated malnutrition and anemia, parasitic infections and blood loss and periodontitis. His bones had broken then reformed. He suffered infections in the long bones of his body and a series of skull and leg fractures.
Though the injuries were severe, the authors could tell the individuals survived them.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN DISEASE AND HISTORY
One of the most important idea of the study is that travel is almost always involved in the spread of diseases, especially in this pandemic time, according to Barquera.
Studies on enslaved people are necessary not only to inform the science and education, but social understanding as well. The social implications of these individuals to be visible again, to be part of this whole history of the Mexican diversity present in modern Mexico.