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Archaeologists uncover the material culture of slavery on São Tomé island



Archaeologists conducting excavations at a 16th century sugar plantation estate on São Tomé island have uncovered the material culture of slavery.

São Tomé is an island located in the Central African country of  São Tomé and Príncipe. Its name is Portuguese for “Saint Thomas and Prince”, having first been settled by the Portuguese following the island’s discovery in 1470.

By the 1530’s, the colony of São Tomé emerged as the largest producer of sugar globally, and relied on a labour force of enslaved Africans from the Slave Coast of West Africa, the Niger Delta, the island of Fernando Po, and later from the Kongo and Angola.

São Tomé was the first tropical plantation economy based on sugar and slave labour, acting as a blueprint for the plantations and plantation economies across the Americas. However, the economic success of São Tomé was short lived, as competition with Brazil in combination with frequent insurrections by enslaved people, meant that the plantation’s profits had suffered major losses by the early 17th century.

Archaeologists from the University of Cologne, and the Centre for African Studies at the University of Porto (CEAUP), have been conduction a study of the Praia Melão, São Tomé’s largest sugar mill and estate from the 16th century

The sugar mill and estate house (a single building) is located near the Ribeiro Manuel Jorge, which flows easterly to the Gulf of Guinea, south of the village of Praia Melão.

The magnitude of the structure mirrors the substantial enslaved workforce that laboured within the primary workspace. Particularly significant are the windows of the building, strategically crafted to offer an unobstructed view of the working zones, facilitating surveillance to enforce productivity, prevent escape, and uprising.

The surviving building is two storey high with a rectangular plan, divided into three rooms. Ceramics, particularly sugar moulds, are found in large quantities across the site, in both the ground and embedded into walls.

X-ray fluorescence—a technique used to determine elemental composition of materials—allowed their origins to be determined. In this case, three sherds of moulds were analyzed and it was discovered that they were made in the Aveiro-Ovar region, Portugal, a major centre for ceramic production at the time.

According to the researchers: “Importantly, these findings display how the plantation economic model later applied in the Americas originated, and the long-distance connections required to facilitate its success. As such, this study could have dramatic implications for our understanding of colonial history.”


Header Image Credit : Antiquity

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Maya tomb with funerary offerings found during hotel construction




A tomb with funerary offerings has been uncovered during the construction of the Tren Maya Hotel, in Palenque, Mexico.

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) conducted rescue excavations following the discovery, revealing skeletal remains associated with the Maya city of Palenque.

Palenque, also known as Lakamha in the Itza Language (meaning “Flat-Place-River”), is located near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

The city dates from 226 BC to AD 799, with most of the major construction works representing a rebuilding effort in response to attacks by the city of Calakmul and its client states in AD 599 and AD 611.

The population declined during the 8th century AD, instead becoming an agricultural population that led to the abandonment of the city zone. By 1520 following the Spanish conquest, contemporary Spanish accounts record the entire region being sparsely populated.

Excavations uncovered a stone lined funerary space sealed with limestone slabs, in which the researchers found the remains of a high-status individual who likely lived in the periphery of Palenque in a small settlement.

The burial is located at a depth of four metres, and also contained ceramic vessels and beads deposited as funerary offerings.

“The individual was placed face up with his legs extended and his head facing north,” said Diego Prieto Hernández from INAH.

The discovery was announced in a press conference reporting on the progress of the Program for the Improvement of Archaeological Zones (Promeza) in Palenque, Moral-Reforma and El Tigre, the three heritage sites that are served within Section 1 of the Mayan Train Project.


Header Image Credit : INAH

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Archaeologists unearth possible birthplace of King Henry VII at Pembroke Castle




Archaeologists from the Dyfed Archaeological Trust may have discovered the possible birthplace of King Henry VII at Pembroke Castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Pembroke Castle was founded during the 11th century by Roger de Montgomerie, the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury.

In 1452, Jasper Tudor was presented both the castle and the earldom by his half-brother, King Henry VI. In 1457, Henry VII was born at the castle, the only child of Lady Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond.

Following Edward IV’s ascension to the throne in 1471, Henry VII endured 14 years of exile in Brittany. He eventually claimed the throne after his forces, with backing from France, Scotland, and Wales, emerged victorious over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, marking the climax of the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VII’s reign is credited with many administrative, economic, and tax reforms, having ruled for nearly 24 years until his death in 1509 at the age of 52. Henry VII was succeed by his second son, Henry, Duke of York, who ascended to the crown as Henry VIII.

Historians have long assumed that a 13th century tower on the outer ward (known today as Henry VII Tower) was the birth place of Henry VII. However, a recent study by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust has uncovered evidence of a late-medieval winged hall-house, broadly dating to the 15th century.

The walls of the structure extend to around 25 metres, with comparisons being drawn to medieval buildings found in England and East Wales, such as Penallt Mansion in Kidwelly. Historically, Pembroke Castle was situated in the English-speaking portion of Pembrokeshire, often referred to as “Little England beyond Wales.”

Speaking to the Western Telegraph, Neil Ludlow, a consultant to Pembroke Castle, said: “All our indications are pointing to a late-medieval building which was clearly of high status within Pembrokeshire, and it looks as if it was at least two-storeys, which possibly makes it a better candidate for the birthplace of a king rather that the tower that currently bears his name.”

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