London, December 12 (ANI): Archaeologists have uncovered one of the largest slave graveyards anywhere in the world on the tiny island of St Helena.
According to a report in the Times, the bones of some 10,000 young Africans lie buried in the rocky valleys of this isolated British territory in the South Atlantic, victims of the ruthless trade that Britain dominated in the 18th century but fought to suppress after the abolition of slavery.
A team of British archaeologists uncovered the first graves last year after preparation had begun to build an access road to the site of the planned new airport on St Helena.
The bodies, many of them children, were discovered where they had been buried after being brought to St Helena between 1840 and 1874 by Royal Navy patrols hunting the slavers.
The captured ships were forced into the island where the traders were arrested and their victims liberated.
By then, however, many were already dead in the fetid holds where they had been packed together for the long journey.
Many of the survivors also died soon after they were brought to Rupert's Valley, near the capital Jamestown.
The navy's West Africa Squadron used it as a treatment and holding depot.
Smallpox, dysentery and other diseases claimed many of those who had endured hunger, thirst and the terrible conditions below decks.
The discovery of so many bones is of enormous importance in researching the history of slavery.
Few graves have been found of captives who died before they were sold in Cuba, Brazil, the United States and other parts of the New World.
The find may stimulate fresh emotional debate, especially in the US and other countries involved in the slave trade until the mid-19th century.
Some 325 skeletons have been excavated. They are now being examined by a research team in Jamestown to determine their age, sex, life history and cause of death.
So far, the vast majority have been males, with a significant proportion of children or young adults, some less than a year old.
Often buried in groups, the individuals were occasionally interred with personal effects, jewellery and fragments of clothing, as well as a few metal tags and artefacts that relate to their enslavement and subsequent rescue.
The dry conditions have led to extremely high levels of preservation and hair has been found on some skulls.
Further research will be carried out in Britain, using, for example, isotope analysis to trace the signature in the bones left by groundwater, which may help to pinpoint some of the captives' origins. (ANI)