In recent years, the history of slavery has taken an important new turn. However, new developments in the archaeology of the colonial period are not as widely known.

Last modified
19 January 2017

Yet, archaeology plays a key role in documenting the living conditions of the slaves, their habitats, the settlements where they were enslaved –their foundations remain even if they have often been destroyed–, maroon enclaves, burial rites, their state of health at the time of death, as well as their age, gender, etc. 

The information we can unearth from the ground provides us with unique data: written archives, where they exist, are for the most part univocal, since they were composed by the state, or by slave traders or owners. Archaeology –in particular, preventive archaeology, for the last twenty years– can make a crucial contribution to the study of colonial slavery by investigating the material culture of the slaves. This evidence benefits our understanding of the trade, the habitats, the everyday life, and the funerary practices of the slaves, as well as "marronnage”. Recent excavations in Brazil, in eastern and southern Africa, and in Ghana, together with underwater research, have yielded important data on the slave trade.

Although slave quarters –so-called "black shack alleys”– have almost all disappeared, they live on, as it were, in underground archaeological structures which are of great historical interest. Works undertaken in Louisiana, Cuba, the French Caribbean, Brazil, and Cape Verde have renewed the available documentation on the habitats and material culture of the slaves. Although it can be challenging for archaeologists, the study of "marronnage” is thriving in the United States, Cuba, Brazil, Reunion, and Mauritius. Research done on "cemeteries” in the United States, Guadeloupe, Martinique or Reunion has thrown new light on the burial conditions of the slaves and on their characteristic pathologies (dietary deficiencies, tooth decay, infections, degenerative diseases...). 

From case studies to synthetic approaches to slavery in the United States, Barbados, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, the French Antilles, and Cape Verde, as well as eastern, southern, and western Africa, and the islands of Reunion and Mauritius, this conference will review recent advances in our knowledge of the slave trade, slavery, and "marronnage”, while also making the case for a better appreciation of archaeological perspectives on the heritage of slavery, and its conservation and enhancement. 

Contact(s) :

Mahaut Tyrrell
Media communication
Inrap, Media relations and partnerships
01 40 08 80 24
mahaut.tyrrell [at]