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AMERICAN GOVERNMENT TO RE-BURY 18TH CENTURY AFRICANS


In 1991, an 18th century African burial ground was discovered by archaeologists at the site of a new government building in New York city. Construction was stopped on the new building after the discovery of what proved to be human bones. Archaeologists were called in and they uncovered, deep beneath the ground, the remains of more than 400 men, women and children, mostly of African origin. The bones and artefacts from the old cemetery were carefully removed to a university laboratory where they are now being studied. Researchers believe this work will provide new information about the lives of African-Americans in New York in the 1700?s.
Once the study is completed the remains will be re-interred in the New York burial ground. In advance of that time, the federal government is sponsoring two design competitions for the burial ground, now a national historic landmark. According to the Project Executive, Peggy King Jorde, ?as a part of memorialisation, we will be bringing the remains back from Howard University (in Washington, D.C.) To be re-interred here in the city of New York. And in preparation for re-interment, we?re currently undergoing procurement for two national design competitions, one for an interpretive centre which will be located within the building that was built on the site, as well as the national competition for the design of a memorial which will in fact go on the site that?s preserved, the exterior site where re-interment will actually happen?. Guidelines for the design competition suggest that the memorials celebrate the spirit of Africans, their culture, their struggles and victories in life and death.
According to Sherrill Wilson, Director of the burial ground?s public information office, ?during the Dutch period - which was when African enslavement was introduced in New Amsterdam (now New York) beginning in 1625 and 1626 - there was really a fair amount of material written about the lives of Africans, not anything written by Africans. We know, for example, that Africans had many of the same legal rights and privileges that Europeans had during that period. We also know that Africans, both enslaved and free, were property owners.?
Chadra Pittman, an Educator at the laboratory where artefacts collected in the burial ground are stored revealed: ?The majority of the burials were situated in such a way so that if they could sit up, they would be facing southeast of the United States. And southeast of the United States is Africa, Mecca, Jerusalem. This may give us some indication as to what their religious or cultural practices were with regard to burying their dead?.
One of the bodies simply identified as ?burial number 340? was buried with 113 glass waist beads strung around her waist. The beads were mostly blue and could indicate an association with royalty. She also had modified teeth - her teeth were shaped into hour glass figures and into points. In some cultures this was done for beauty, but it could also have served as a cultural or ?tribal? marker.
One of the results of the studies done on the remains are revelations of biological similarities to the Ashanti people of Ghana and the peoples of Angola. The studies show high infant and childhood mortality due to malnutrition. The skeletons suggest to investigators that most of the men experienced excessive work and load-bearing stress. Clearly, says one anthropologist, the project is beginning to influence the way research is done at African-American archaeological sites. But organisers of the planned memorials say they have a larger purpose: to insure that the site is remembered as a ?sacred place? that will acknowledge for all time those who are buried there.
 
 
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