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Archaeology course unlocks "silent history" of the slave trade in West Africa

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Author Topic: Archaeology course unlocks "silent history" of the slave trade in West Africa  (Read 47 times)
Sky Busk
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« on: November 01, 2009, 04:44:35 am »

Artifacts, oral histories, and scant documentary evidence are all that remain of the precolonial history of the kingdom of Dahomey (pronounced DAH-hoe-may) in the southern portion of the Republic of Benin. The region is of great historical significance because approximately 20 percent of all enslaved Africans bound for the New World passed through the area, according to Monroe.

Much of what is known about the region is based on documents related to the transatlantic slave trade, including shipping records, account books, and the diaries of European slave traders, merchants, and missionaries. But there is very little evidence of what communities were like in the West African interior.

Archaeology can shed light on this lost history, said Monroe, who is tracing evidence of past settlements to learn how villagers interacted, traded, and moved between the coast, cities, and the countryside.

"It was a tense and terrifying time for people" as slave raiders swept up tens of thousands of Africans and displaced many more, said Monroe, whose work is contributing to the understanding of how Africans coped with the pressures of the slave trade.

"The village of Cana, where we're working, has a deep history of migration and immigration from distance regions," he said. "It became a heterogeneous, diverse community. Like Los Angeles in the 20th century, nobody was from there."

Since 2000, Monroe has focused his research on excavating former palace sites and remnants of villages in an effort to assemble evidence of what buildings looked like, how goods flowed, and even what rituals were performed.

"When times get tough, people get creative--about networks, the exchange of goods, and moving to safe areas," said Monroe. "Beads can say enormous things about what sorts of connections people were making."
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