Abstract: Valle da Gafaria (Lagos, Portugal) has become known as the earliest and largest burial site of enslaved Africans ever found in Europe, predating one of the most shameful chapters of Western history, the Transatlantic slave trade. Bioarchaeological evidence obtained from a total of 158 individuals proves they were of African origin and forcefully deported to Lagos in the 15th to 17th centuries. However from which African regions they were abducted, and at what stages of their lives, remains unknown. This makes it difficult to connect them with descendant communities today and to assess Portugal’s early collusion in the slave trade. The combined analysis of the isotopes ratios of strontium, oxygen, sulfur, carbon and nitrogen is a powerful forensic approach to reconstruct past human environments, diets and mobility patterns during different life stages. We will measure these isotopes in early and late forming teeth in the human remains from Valle da Gafaria in collaboration with Portuguese colleagues to reconstruct individual human origins and to document the rapid changes in life conditions including shifts in geological location, climate and diet, as the result of forced migration from West and Central Africa to Portugal. For the first time, we will utilize novel (and yet unpublished) strontium isotope data from West and Central Africa, including the former Portuguese colony Angola, to determine the most likely native homelands of the enslaved people from Valle da Gafaria.
Participants: Sofia Wasterlain (CIAS), Maria Teresa Ferreira (CIAS), Ana González Ruiz (CIAS, Research fellow), Carina Leirião (CIAS, Research fellow)
Partner institutions: University of California in Santa Cruz
Financial support: National Geographic (Grant # NGS-92850R-22)