Africans are believed to have arrived in America before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. Archaeological findings from a cemetery at Campeche, a Mexico port city, revealed the remains of the earliest African slaves who worked in America in mid-1500s.
An archaeologist with the University of Wisconsin, Douglas Price, who published the findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, said the notion that Africans were brought to America during the 18th century at the height of the slave trade was inaccurate because there were some who were already settled in the United States.
He told the New York Times they unearthed these details while remodeling the central plaza in Campeche which was a vibrant slave port during the colonial era. They found skeletal remains of at least 180 people at an old church and its burial site.
The researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing the teeth of four of the remains which showed that they were born in the Western part of Africa. They showed features and characteristics of Africans in the way their dentures had been filed and chip sharp edges in their teeth. Scientific analysis of the remains from the burial ground showed that some of the remains were also of European and Indian origin.
Examination of their dental disfigures showed more shocking findings on the four dental remains. They concluded that the four were African slaves who were shipped to Africa and not their children. The researchers connected the remains to slaves who were shipped from Elmina, a coastal community in Ghana, which played a major role in the slave trade.
Price said prior to this discovery there was no evidence published to suggest there were slaves of African descent that had been buried in America within the period. Historical records and maps have now confirmed that burials were conducted from the mid-16th century into the 17th century where the archaeological findings were made, with the researchers stumbling upon a pre-1550 medallion in the grave.
A Professor at Ohio State University who studies health and nutrition of pre-Columbian American Indians, Richard H. Steckel, added that the nature of the cemetery gives a sense that either those who were buried there had converted to Christianity or had attained some status warranting their burial in the church cemetery.
He indicated that there is enough proof to say that there were African slaves in America in the 1500s but little is known of their health status. A Historian Professor at the University of Minnesota, William D. Phillips, said he is not taken aback by the presence of the African slaves since historically, Campeche was an important route for the Spain Crown in the shipment of slaves to America.
This evidence, according to the researchers, means that Africans were on the Caribbean Islands and in America before Christopher Columbus’s first voyage in 1492. The number of African slaves grew exponentially with the expansion of the sugar plantation in Mexico and Peru.
There is the view that the presence of Africans in Spanish America was massive compared to that of Europeans during the period of 1600. A historian of Latin America at Stanford and an author of studies on slavery in the region, Herbert S. Klein, said the demand for cheap labor in the 1600s meant the exodus of more Africans to Mexico and other Caribbean islands. This explains why an estimated number of slaves of African descent had been transported to America over 400 years after Columbus’ discovery of America.