350 Years Remains of Enslaved Africans in Portugal Show They Preserved Cultural Beliefs and Customs 

Stephen Nartey September 06, 2022

When enslaved Africans were captured during the transatlantic slave trade and shipped to Portugal, the colonial authority sought to redefine their identity by giving them new names, new religion and a new language. 

The philosophy behind this assimilation project was to quell any form of rebellion among the African descent. But, archaeological findings have revealed that despite the measures put in place to assimilate them, the African communities in Portugal made a conscious effort to preserve their traditions, customs and belief systems. 

Researchers from Uppsala University and Universidade de Lisboa found evidence in an  8,000 year ago burial site where enslaved Africans in Portugal maintained how they buried their dead. 

The archaeological excavations established that Amoreira was used as a burial site given the ample bones of humans and animals dug from the site. 

The graves of the dead Africans were arranged with a layer of sand, which is uncharacteristic of Portuguese culture of burial. In Portugal, the aged and youth are buried in religious cemeteries, presupposing this style of burial had a linkage with a different set of beliefs and customs. 

The researchers said after relying on biomolecular archaeology, ancient DNA and historical records, found out that the bone remains belonged to African descendants from Senegal and Gambia who were transported during the transatlantic slave trade in 1630 and 1760. 

The researchers said their analysis showed particles of food conversant with nationals of Senegambia origin, who ate plant food and minute bit of seafood, according to heritage daily. 

The water substance extracted and analysed by the team showed a comparison of the same liquid in the coastal region of the West Africa nations of Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. 

The researchers said their evidence confirmed a stringent attempt to preserve African cultural beliefs even though this aspect of history is not properly documented. 

The researchers pointed out that the local population of African descent saw Amoreira as an ancient burial site hence the volumes of human and animals excavated from there. 

The archaeologists indicated that they also found the remains of shell fish meals which are still eaten among many African nationals today. 

The remains of the man found in the burial site showed he was buried in a shell midden, which is characteristic of Africans in how coffins are made to give the dead a befitting burial. 

The researchers in their analysis of historical records traced the remains to a murder of a coloured man  João at Arneiro da Amoreira in November 1st, 1676. 

This was documented by a local church at Amoreira which is exactly where the researchers found the mortal remains of African descent. 

Though the remains were found in Amoreira, the church records say the man was buried in the church yard. 

The researchers said their findings revealed that the man’s parents were of African descent. 

The researchers said though there is some inconsistencies in the local records and the human remains they found, they are satisfied that their work has provided a link to the life and death of a first generation African who was brought to Portugal during the transatlantic slave trade. 

This would not have been possible by analyzing skeletal remains in an archaeological research laboratory, according to Heritage Daily. 

Last Edited by:Sedem Ofori Updated: September 12, 2022


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