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Filling in the gaps in the slave trade

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Booker Gant
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« on: December 04, 2011, 05:33:33 pm »

Ancient origins
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Bioarchaeologists at institutions including the universities of Bristol and York, UK, will study the skeletal remains of enslaved Africans to investigate their demographics, health and quality of life, and use protein and isotope analysis to gain information about geographical origins and identify diseases such as scurvy and tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, historians at the University of Hull, UK, will compile and study written sources on the origins of African captives, and archaeologists based at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands will map and excavate plantations and slave villages in the Dutch Antilles.

But a large focus is on genetics. Several groups will study the DNA of modern populations, such as the Noir Marron people in French Guiana, to reconstruct the origins of Africans captured as slaves. The Noir Marron are direct descendants of slaves who escaped their Dutch masters during the era of plantation slavery, and have since interbred very little with other populations.

Researchers at the Center for GeoGenetics will study ancient DNA from enslaved Africans buried in the Caribbean, using more than 300,000 genetic markers on the nuclear genome. These are called ancestry informative markers2, and will help to distinguish between people from different populations in West Africa.

Matthew Collins, a bioarchaeologist at the University of York, who will lead one of the projects, says that EUROTAST may reveal controversial findings. These could include, for example, the extent of interbreeding with native Americans and Europeans among US populations who see themselves as purely African, and the role of African people in the slave trade.

“I think it’s going to be a very uncomfortable project,” he says. “It’s going to come out with some things that people don’t want to hear, but that’s one of the things that’s interesting about it.”

Because of this, the researchers plan to discuss their work with involved communities ahead of announcing the results.

    Nature
    doi:10.1038/nature.2011.9535

References

    Schroeder, H., O’Connell, T. C., Evans, J. A., Shuler, K. A. and Hedges, R. E. M. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 139, 547–557 (2009).
        Article
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    Bryc, K. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 786–791 (2010).
        Article
        PubMed
        ChemPort
    Show context

Related stories and links
From nature.com

    Ancient DNA: Curse of the Pharaoh's DNA

    27 April 2011
    Anthropology: The Iceman defrosted

    02 March 2011
    Anthropology: DNA from across the ocean

    22 December 2010
    Jefferson's descendants continue to deny slave link

    16 May 2002
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