Caribbean plantation yields 18C graveyard

·2-min read

An 18th century burial ground has been discovered at a former sugar plantation on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius.

Archaeologists say it likely contains the remains of slaves and could provide a trove of information on the lives as enslaved people.

Government officials say 48 skeletons have been found so far, mostly of males but also some females and infants.

Alexandre Hinton, the director of the Sint Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research, says many more remains are expected to lie in the graves at the former Golden Rock Plantation.

"We are predicting that the number of individuals buried here will surpass the burial site discovered at Newton Plantation on Barbados, where 104 enslaved Africans were excavated," Hinton said on Sunday.

"This is one of the largest sites of its kind ever discovered in the Caribbean."

Authorities say the site was found while archeologists checked an area needed for expansion of an airport.

"We knew the potential for archaeological discoveries in this area was high but this cemetery exceeds all expectations," Hinton said.

Given the location near the former plantation, Hinton says the graves most likely contain the remains of enslaved people.

"Initial analysis indicates that these are people of African descent," she said.

"To date, we have found two individuals with dental modification that is a West African custom.

"Typically plantation owners did not allow enslaved persons to do this. These individuals are thus most likely first generation enslaved people who were shipped to Sint Eustatius."

The majority of the burials contain remnants of coffins, coffin nails and objects buried with the deceased, such as several intact tobacco pipes, beads and ceramic plates.

A coin from 1737 depicting King George II of England was found resting on a coffin lid.

Experts at several universities around the world will analyse the remains to learn more about the lives of the buried individuals.

Hinton says Leiden University in the Netherlands will conduct "stable isotope analysis" to determine the peoples' diets as well as whether they were born on the island.

Harvard will do DNA analysis to find where the people came from and England's Northumbria University will do protein studies to discover what diseases they might have suffered.

One of the most important outcomes of the research will be a more thorough understanding of the lives of slaves in the Caribbean.

Most of what is known about their lives comes from the writings of people in power, such as colonial administrators and plantation owners, sources that can be biased or incomplete.

Sint Eustatius, which lies in northeastern part of the Caribbean, was colonised by the Dutch in 1636.

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