Elmina Bioarchaeological Project

The Elmina Bioarchaeological Project: One of the most important archaeological sites in Africa, spans the period of European contact, trade, and colonization.

Where
Elmina is located in coastal southern Ghana.

When
The Elmina Bioarchaeological Project examines skeletal material from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Researchers
Emily S. Renschler, University of Pennsylvania
Christopher R. DeCorse, Syracuse University

Sponsors
National Science Foundation

In the photo (above): Photograph of Locus A excavations (which yielded many house floor burials), facing south with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. Photo courtesy of Chris DeCorse.


Evidence for pipe smoking evident on the mandibular dentition of an individual from Elmina. This project is a bioarchaeological study of the human skeletal material excavated from the Elmina archaeological site. Located in coastal Ghana, Elmina has been the focus of intensive archaeological research by Christopher DeCorse (Syracuse University) and colleagues and is widely considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Africa. The site spans the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries—a time period that includes the first European contact with the Portuguese in 1482 and the subsequent growth of the town into one of the largest trading posts in all of Africa. During these four centuries, the town grew from a small African fishing and farming settlement of only a few hundred inhabitants into a major trading port with a population of 15,000-20,000 Africans and Europeans.

This project is the first comprehensive bioarchaeological analysis of the skeletal remains of the approximately 200 individuals excavated from the Elmina site, most of whom represent the inhabitants of the African settlement through the period of European contact, trade, and colonization (DeCorse, 2001). This study focuses on the biological impact of the cultural transformations that accompanied European contact and the consequences of the slave trade upon African populations. Examination of the remains of some of the inhabitants of Elmina during this period of intense cultural transformation offers insight into what their everyday lives were like. This perspective is missing from much of the historical record which is heavily reliant upon contemporary European narratives.

Osteological, stable isotope, and ancient DNA analyses are being employed to explore the health, identities, and lifeways of the individuals represented by the skeletal sample. As a multidisciplinary bioarchaeological project, this study integrates biological data with archaeological, historical, and oral historical information. Ultimately, the results of this project will be of importance to not only the scholarly community but to the general public who seek to better understand this important part of the history of the Diaspora.

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