UW Madison Scholars Clarify Slavery’s Timelines

In the early European histories of the New World, there are numerous accounts of African slaves accompanying explorers and colonists.

Now, digging in a colonial era graveyard in one of the oldest European cities in Mexico, archaeologists have found what they believe are the oldest remains of slaves brought from Africa to the New World. The remains date between the late-16th century and the mid-17th century, not long after Columbus first set foot in the Americas.

Campeche, one of the oldest European settlements in Mexico, was a gateway to the New World for European explorers and colonists and, evidently, slaves from Africa. Digging near the central plaza of the port city on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, archaeologists have uncovered the oldest physical evidence to date for slaves brought to the New World from Africa.

The discovery is to be reported in an upcoming edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology by a team of researchers from UW-Madison and the Autonomous University of the Yucatan.

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