An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN
Bones reveal little-known tale of New York slaves
February 12, 1998
Despite being buried for over 200 years, the bones are in almost pristine condition
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT)
From Correspondent Ann Kellan
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Far beneath the busy cityscape of New
York's lower Manhattan lies a centuries-old cemetery. The
burial ground, discovered in 1991 by construction workers,
contains more than 400 remains of what is believed to be the
first group of African slaves brought to the city. It also
tells a little-known story of early New York.
The bones, almost pristine despite being buried for more than
200 years, represent the emergence of
African-American culture in the United States, according to
Dr. Warren Perry, an archeologist for the African Burial Project. ( 153K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Dr. Michael Blakey, a biological anthropologist from Howard University, says the bones also reveal a great deal about who the slaves were and offer hints of where they came from. ( 136K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
And while most people think of slavery as having been
concentrated in rural or the Southern parts of the country,
Edna Medford of the Historical Component says New York had a
significant slave population during the 18th century.
Scientists hope the bones will shed new light on the lives of
enslaved Africans during the Colonial period.
Blakey says the bones have already revealed that the African
slaves were probably involved in a range of activities,
helping to transform New York into a bustling seaport.
The bones show the hardships the Africans faced the moment
they stepped off the slave ships; in some cases they
literally were worked to death.
"You have so many individuals who have trauma or injury to
the bone, broken neck bones because they were forced to do
that kind of labor," says Ena Fox of Howard University.
As Blakey demonstrates how the knee bones work, he tells of
the enlarged muscles or torn ligaments the slaves would have
experienced. ( 213K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound) He says half of the
populations died before they became teen-agers; others died
within the first two years of their arrival.
Fox, who's been collecting data from the teeth that were
found, says defects in the tooth enamel were caused by
African burial ground
Further examination of the bones and teeth reveal Africans
who were enslaved as children and then shipped here had more
cased of metabolic illness and malnutrition than children who
spent their childhood in Africa and later died as adults.
Through the research of artifacts and further DNA studies,
scientists hope to trace the slaves' origins back to the
particular countries they came from on the African
Once that is done, the remains of the enslaved will be
returned to the earth and a portion of the original burial
ground will be set aside as a lasting memorial.