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

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Sky Busk
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« on: November 01, 2009, 04:44:59 am »

In the field this summer, Monroe shared his passion for unlocking this "silent history" with an international team of students from four countries, including Benin. Monroe is the director of the UC Abomey Plateau Archaeological Project, which sponsored the expedition in collaboration with the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.

The trip marked the first archaeological dig for each participant, including Baker-Rabe.

"Having that access to Cameron was really amazing," she said. "The history he's finding has never been recorded. No one would ever know."

The work was physically taxing: Participants rose at dawn and worked eight hours a day in the tropical sun, excavating deep pits with picks and hoes, hauling buckets of dirt, and cleaning and analyzing hundreds of artifacts.

"The first week, I was really sore," said Baker-Rabe, pointing to the well-defined "troweling muscles" of her right forearm. "I was tired and sore and sunburned, and I got malaria. It wasn't easy, but I was still happy."

The shared experience of working hard and learning together was deeply satisfying, and the pace of life slowed enough that Baker-Rabe said she was able to think deeply about her future. "We talked about graduate school, letters of recommendation, and different fields of archaeology," she recalled. "I had the time and the silence to think about these things critically and in terms of who I want to be."

Baker-Rabe still thinks about the trip every day. And she still gets her hands in the dirt every week as part of a class excavating the Cowell Lime Works Historic District at the base of campus.

For Monroe, the expedition advanced a pressing research agenda. The team spent several weeks excavating rural sites he discovered in 2007. Upon closer examination, two sites appear to have been quarries where iron-rich, pebbly earth was removed, probably for use in the construction of royal palaces. As such, they may represent evidence of African slave-labor camps, a significant discovery.
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