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DNA Testing Allows Researchers To Identify Enslaved Africans From 300 Years Ago Using Only Their Teeth

Caribbean, Caribbean Enslaved, Caribbean Enslaved DNA, Enslaved Remains, News, The Middle Passage, World -

DNA Testing Allows Researchers To Identify Enslaved Africans From 300 Years Ago Using Only Their Teeth

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In 2010, the skeletons of three African-born enslaved people who had died more than 300 years before were unearthed during a construction project in Philipsburg, St. Martin.

No written records were available, and the names and precise ethnic backgrounds of the long-dead Africans remained a mystery.

At the time of the discovery, scientists could deduce from the skeletons that the three people were between 25 and 40 years old when they died in the late 1600s.

The skulls of each also bore teeth that had been filed down in patterns characteristic of certain African groups, but this alone wasn’t enough to establish where the individuals originated on the African continent.

Now, a newly developed genetic technique has enabled researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, to sequence tiny bits of DNA remaining in the skeletons’ teeth.

Using this data, the scientists were able to determine where in Africa the individuals probably lived before they were shipped to St. Martin.

The landmark research marks the first time that scientists have been able to use such old, poorly preserved DNA to identify the ethnic origins of long-dead individuals.

The finding paves the way for a greater understanding of the patterns of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and may transform the general practice of genealogical and historical research, moreover.

“Through the barbarism of the middle passage, millions of people were forcibly removed from Africa and brought to the Americas,” said Carlos Bustamante, professor of genetics at Stanford. “We have long sought to use DNA to understand who they were, where they came from and who, today, shares DNA with those people taken aboard the ships.

“This project has taught us that we cannot only get ancient DNA from tropical samples, but that we can reliably identify their ancestry. This is incredibly exciting to us and opens the door to reclaiming history that is of such importance.”

Professor Bustamante is co-author of a paper describing the research, which is published online this week in PNAS.

He is well-known for his studies of the ethnic background of native Mexicans and Caribbean dwellers, as well as for using genomics to study the patterns of human migration from North Africa to southern Europe.

The researchers used a technique recently devised in the Bustamante laboratory called whole-genome capture to isolate enough ancient DNA from the skeletons to sequence and analyze.

Read more at Caribbean360


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