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Archaeologists uncover the material culture of slavery on São Tomé island

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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.”

Antiquity 

https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2023.113

Header Image Credit : Antiquity

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Archaeology

Geophysical study finds evidence of “labyrinth” buried beneath Mitla

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A geophysical study has found underground structures and tunnels beneath Mitla – The Zapotec “Place of the Dead”

Mitla is an archaeological site associated with the Zapotec culture, located in the Oaxaca Valley in the present-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

The Zapotec civilisation emerged in the late 6th century BC, originating in the Central Valleys of the Etla. The culture was centred on the settlements of Oaxaca, San José Mogote, and Mitla, with the city of Monte Albán serving as the civic-ceremonial centre.

At its peak, the Zapotec had a population of more than 500,000 inhabitants, having developed sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems, and complex agricultural cultivation.

In 2016, the Lyobaa Project, an institutional collaboration led by the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) employed ground penetrating radar (GPR), electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), and ambient seismic noise interferometry (AIRSA) to explore potential archaeological features beneath the San Pablo Apóstol church, built atop the Zapotec ruins in Mitla.

Image Credit : Lyobaa Project

According to local legend, the church was constructed on an entrance way to an underground labyrinth, serving as a passage between the realm of the living to the realm of the dead, referred to as Mictlán in Nahuatl, meaning the “place of the dead” or “underworld.”

In 1674, the Dominican chronicler, Francisco Burgoa, described Spanish missionaries entering the labyrinth: “Such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance they had already penetrated, they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.”

As part of phase two of the Lyobaa Project, the researchers have identified buried architectural complexes and a series of corridors during a study of the Calvario, Arroyo, and del Sur groups within the archaeological zone.

The Arroyo group, located in the central area of the site has three quadrangle features connected by tunnels that likely date from AD 1200 during the Late Postclassic period.

The project also conducted a survey of the quadrangular plaza where the San Pablo Apóstol church was constructed on the remains of a pre-Hispanic temple. Beneath the plaza the researchers found that there are four mounds with clay internal cores.

Archaeologist, Denisse Argote, said: “We were able to determine that, although the core of the stepped structure is solid, the foundation of the historic church requires short-term intervention to guarantee its conservation, so measures must be taken to ensure its structural stability.”

“There are cracks in the historic building, since it does not have a foundation and, underneath, in what corresponds to the remains of the pre-Hispanic building, it seems that there are areas with small cavities,” added Argote.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : INAH

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Discovery of a Romanesque religious structure rewrites history of Frauenchiemsee

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Archaeologists from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation have announced the discovery of a Romanesque religious structure on the island of Frauenchiemsee, the second largest of the three islands in Chiemsee, Germany.

According to the researchers, the structure holds important religious significance, suggesting it might have been erected to venerate Blessed Irmgard (also known as Irmengard), the daughter of King Louis the German and the great-granddaughter of Charlemagne.

During the mid-9th century, Irmgard was appointed the first abbess of Frauenwörth Abbey, who restored the decaying premises and founded a Benedictine convent for nuns. Because of her royal ancestry, she had the right to wear a thin golden hoop resembling a crown, often depicted on paintings and frescoes with her image.

Following her death in 866, Irmgard was venerated and her head reliquary was translated to Seeon Abbey in 1004. She was officially beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, and a celebratory ceremony in 2003 saw her relics reunified.

A recent geophysical study to locate the demolished remains of the Church of Saint Martin has revealed the imprint of a Romanesque structure completely absent from all historical text and contemporary maps.

Image Credit : Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

The structure is buried at a depth of 1 metre and measures 19 metres in diameter. The GPR results reveal the floor plan of an octagonal central building with an ambulatory formed by eight supports and four arrange in a cross shape.

Mathias Pfeil of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation notes that religious structures with pre-Romanesque or Romanesque architecture, particularly those with sacral significance, are exceedingly uncommon north of the Alps. Such edifices are often perceived as imitations of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

According to the researchers, the structure was likely built during the construction of the new monastery and Romanesque abbey church (of which the gatehouse and bell tower survive to this day) to venerate Irmgard as a destination for pilgrims

Header Image Credit : Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

Sources : Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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