This project aims to use ancient DNA (aDNA) analyses to trace the geographical origins of African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in the forced migration of over eleven million Africans to the Americas. In recent years, there has been growing interest among scholars, as well as the general public, in restoring knowledge of their origins. Historical documents provide obvious sources of information but their usefulness is restricted by the fact that they generally refer to the coastal areas from where slaves were shipped, rather than where they actually originated. Recently, geneticists have tried to tackle the question of origins from a different angle, using modern genetic data. The phylogeographic perspective has revealed that it is possible to use the inheritance characteristics of the non-recombining mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecule to trace the maternal ancestry of individuals to specific geographical regions within Africa and, in some cases, even to particular ethnic groups. However, there is a problem with this approach. Although only about 200 years have passed since the abolition of the slave trade, there has been considerable population movement to and within the Americas, so that modern genetic distributions may not accurately reflect the effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is where this project comes in. Ancient DNA analyses on archaeological skeletal remains provide a window back in time, so to speak, that enables us to test hypotheses based on modern data. We propose to use aDNA analyses of human remains from several archaeological sites in the Caribbean to reconstruct the ancestral relationships of African slaves and their descendants directly. In doing so, we hope to restore some of the links that were so cruelly severed by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Fields of science
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