Archaeologists Find 18th Century Burial Ground At Former Caribbean Plantation
Photo Credit: Olha Ruskykh

Photo Credit: Olha Ruskykh

Archaeologists Find 18th Century Burial Ground At Former Caribbean Plantation

Sint Eustatius , news
Parker Diakite
Parker Diakite Jun 4, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered a burial ground at a former sugar plantation on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius that they believe likely contains the remains of slaves.

Government officials said 48 skeletons had been found at the site so far, most of them males, but also some females and infants. Researchers found the remains after inspecting a site needed for expanding an airport.

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

“We knew the potential for archaeological discoveries in this area was high, but this cemetery exceeds all expectations,” she stated. “We are predicting that the number of individuals buried here will surpass the burial site discovered at Newton Plantation in Barbados, where 104 enslaved Africans were excavated. This is one of the largest sites of its kind ever discovered in the Caribbean.”

The location near the former plantation is just one clue of many on why Hinton and her team suspect the remains are from those enslaved.

“Initial analysis indicates that these are people of African descent,” she said. “To date, we have found two individuals with the 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 St. Eustatius.”

The remains will be examined by universities and experts around the world to learn more about the buried individuals. According to Hinton, Leiden University in the Netherlands will conduct a “stable isotope analysis” to determine their diets as well as whether they were born on the island. Harvard will do the 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 is understanding the lives of enslaved persons in the Caribbean. St. Eustatius, located in the northeastern part of the Caribbean, was colonized by the Dutch in the 1600s and became an important transit port for the regional trade in sugar and slaves from West Africa.