"Voices from beyond the grave" Excavation and anthropological examinations of skeletons of enslaved African-Caribeans in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands and compared with historical records
Associate Professor, MSc., PhD Pia Bennike, Laboratory of Biological Anthropology, Københavns Universitet
Most of what we know today about the lives of enslaved Africans and Afro-Caribbeans in the Caribbean colonies originate from the written records of white people. Only very rarely do we hear the voices of the enslaved themselves and even then it is often in records where their stories are again filtered through the minds and words of white people. This is why the material remains of the life of the enslaved are of invaluable importance to our understanding of them. The things they left, for instance the ruins of their houses or the shards of their cooking pots, reflect part of their lives, but it is through their own bones we are permitted to hear their voices from beyond the grave. This is the closest we can possibly get to telling the story of their lives as they knew it.
The earthly remains of enslaved Africans and Afro-Caribbeans are a particularly rich source of information. The purpose of the project is to evaluate the individual age at death, sex and possible ethnic origin through biological/forensic anthropological analyses of newly excavated skeletal remains. The skeleton stores a record of much of what happens during life like heavy physical labor, accidents, childbirth and diseases. For instance, the teeth reflect the kind of food that was eaten. Chemical analyses will help reveal the time of weaning, the amount of lead contamination and the geographical place of birth f the individual.
This interdisciplinary project and collaboration between anthropologists/ historians and archaeologists with the focus on the past enslaved people may be considered a unique possibility to re-establish a relationship between Denmark and the people of the US Virgin Islands who share a common history the lessons of which must never be forgotten.