The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Forced Migration and the Skeletal Record at Fort Amsterdam Depot, St Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean


1Classical and Archaeological Studies, University of Kent, 2Archaeological Sciences, Leiden University

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

St Eustatius is a small island in the north-eastern Caribbean. In the early 18th century, a fortification on its south coast (Fort Amsterdam) was converted into a depot holding enslaved people for transhipment to the nearby Spanish, English, and French islands. Documentary sources indicate that a burial ground adjacent to the fort was used for African ancestry individuals but does not indicate whether they were prisoners from the depot or enslaved people from nearby plantations. Excavated primarily in rescue situations as the sandy cliff collapses, the incomplete and fragmentary remains from Fort Amsterdam are nevertheless substantial enough for the isotopic analysis, palaeopathological analysis, and ancestry assessment of seven individuals which can help us to understand the embodied experiences of enslaved people. Results of the analysis showed that several of these individuals were of African ancestry and had probably spent their early childhood in sub-Saharan Africa. Metric analysis indicated that another individual may have had indigenous Caribbean ancestry, and palaeopathological information included evidence for trauma and metabolic disease. These results are important because of the paucity of information that we have concerning the enslaved people of the Dutch Caribbean, much less the enslaved people who came through the large depots of the region. Although this site represents challenges it has provided information which helps us to understand enslavement in the region from a bottom-up perspective.

Many thanks are due to the University of Kent Centre for Heritage and the UK Society for Latin American Studies.

Slides/Poster (pdf)