The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Reconstructing health at Elmina, Ghana: bioarchaeological perspectives of a historic African settlement in the Atlantic world


1Sociology and Anthropology, Bowdoin College, 2Anthropology, Syracuse University

Saturday 9:45-10:00, Galleria North Add to calendar

We examine health status and diet in a sample (n=50) of eighteenth and nineteenth century African burials excavated within the Elmina settlement, coastal Ghana. As one of the largest settlements on the West African coast, Elmina played a central role in European trade, particularly the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This produced increased population growth and urban density, accompanied by transformations in dietary patterns and subsistence. Archaeological excavations have recovered the largest known burial assemblage from an Atlantic period West African site. Skeletal indicators of health and diet were analyzed to evaluate the effect of these changing conditions on some of the people who lived in Elmina.

Our results show a low frequency of linear enamel hypoplasias in the sample (13%; 75 anterior teeth assessed), and most of the cases were faint in appearance. Very few cases of periosteal lesions were observed, and the incidence of caries was low. A moderate degree of porotic hyperostosis (39%; 18 individuals assessed) and cribra orbitalia (38%; 13 individuals assessed) was found, predominantly in one area of the settlement believed to have been occupied by less elite members of the community.

Overall, our data do not show a high prevalence of biological stress indicators and suggests good dental health. Until now, very little bioarchaeological research has been conducted on historic West African skeletal populations. This study is a first step towards filling this gap and contributing towards a deeper understanding of both West African populations during the period of the Atlantic trade and African diasporic lifeways.

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