Friday, March 28, 2014

Beach burials reveal slaving legacy

Coastal erosion of Saint -François, on the south coast of Grande-Terre, part of the Guadeloupe group of islands in the Lesser Antilles, has partially destroyed a colonial era cemetery situated on the beach. An archaeological excavation of the eroded area has been carried out by Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP).

A skull and slave collar

This particular cemetery has been known about for several years. In the 1990s, the discovery of a skull associated with a slave collar produced the initial clue. Since then, human bones and coffin nails have emerged from the sand at regular intervals. Surveys conducted in 2013 helped uncover 48 individual burials, with indications of wooden coffins.

The deceased are all lying on their backs and mainly within coffins. The burials are aligned roughly east -west parallel to the shoreline; their heads mainly at the west end, and the presence of bone buttons indicate that they were dressed for burial. One of the individuals had cut incisors, suggesting an African place of birth and can be compared with the discoveries made at the slave cemetery of Anse Sainte -Marguerite (Grande-Terre). The population consists of adults and children of both sexes.

A long period of use

Overlapping burials reflect a relatively long use of the cemetery. The timeline remains unclear, but the evidence collected allows the archaeologists to propose an occupation from the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Between 500 and 1,000 graves are still in place.

All the threatened remains will be excavated and studied along with any historical sources. Guadeloupe had lucrative sugar plantations and a large slave population. Slavery was finally abolished in 1848, which was largely due to a campaign led by Victor Schoelcher, a French politician.

Past Horizons. 2014. “Beach burials reveal slaving legacy”. Past Horizons. Posted: February 11, 2014. Available online:

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