The string of 111 glass beads and cowrie shells around the waist of one woman's burial, still undergoing study, suggest that she belonged to an Akan-speaking society in which such beads are buried with their owner. A quartz crystal and examples of shells buried with human remains point to a variety of African society's burial customs, about which we might never know a more specific affiliation. One symbol, a heart-shape believed to be the adinkra symbol, Sankofa, is specifically Akan. This symbol, perhaps illegally made to embellish the coffin for a large man (5 ft., 9in./176cm.), signifies the connections between past, present, and future ancestors and the living. Furthermore, our historians show that the Ashanti, known to the English as "coromantees," were among the enslaved African captives in colonial New York. There, as in the English colonies of the Caribbean, Twi- and Ashanti- speaking people were often associated with the leadership of insurrections.
     Much more research on origins remains to be done, and yet we now have evidence, biological and cultural, of some of our "roots." Historical records suggest that we might find a greater diversity of origins stretching all the way to Madagascar. Surnames given to Africans initially enslaved by the Dutch in New Amsterdam (later to be named "New York" under English rule) indicate origins in "Angola" and "Congo" as well.
     Grave orientations and spatial patterns will need further examination, and a CADD three-dimensional computer simulation based on archaeological stratigraphy is currently being completed for that analysis at Howard. We are taking a careful look at the possible evidence for Islamic-style burials, as well as the syncretism of traditional and Christian mortuary styles.

The Physical Quality of Life
Our most abundant evidence-to-date concerns the physical quality of life under slavery. Premature mortality was high. One-half of the population died in childhood, and nearly forty percent of those children died as infants. These rates are nearly twice the rates of infant mortality among the colonial English in the colony of New York. (Interestingly, although today's infant mortality is much lower, African-American infant mortality remains twice that of Euro-Americans). Children often show evidence of infectious diseases (twenty-five percent of skeletons have bone lesions associated with generalized infection). Fifty percent of dead children show evidence of metabolic disease, the vast majority of which indicates anemia (most likely to have resulted from malnutrition and diseases, while approximately ten percent of anemia might easily have a genetic basis). Children (two to twelve years age) often show evidence of growth retardation in which bone growth lags approximately two years behind developmental ages assessed on the basis of dental development. Furthermore, about sixty percent of children have developmental defects in dental enamel resulting from bouts of malnutrition and diseases.


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August 2000