350 years old remains in a Stone Age site in Portugal
25 February 2022
An African man who lived just 350 years ago was buried in a prehistoric shell midden in Amoreira in Portugal. This was very surprising because Amoreira and other midden sites in the Muge region are well known by archaeologists for the cemeteries of the last hunter-gatherers living in the area 8 000 years-ago.
To investigate this burial researchers from Uppsala University and Universidade de Lisboa combined biomolecular archaeology, ancient DNA, and historical records.
We could determine that these were the bone remains of a first-generation African, probably from Senegambia, arriving in Portugal via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, who died around 1630 and 1760. His genetic signature indicates African ancestry, while dietary isotope analysis shows that for most of his life, his diet consisted of plant foods commonly found in Senegambia, but not in Portugal at that time, plus a minor consumption of low trophic level marine foods (such as bivalve molluscs). The oxygen isotopic signal in the bone bioapatite reflects the ingested water at the place of origin, which could be narrowed to the coastal areas of western Africa, in present-day Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia.
For more than three centuries, Africans were brutally dislocated from their homeland while forced to adopt a new religion, a new name, and a new language. African communities in Portugal developed strategies to preserve their socio-cultural identity and values, similarly to what is documented in the Americas.
We used our results to search for other clues that could help us understand the motivations behind his unusual burial. The burial of this man in an 8000-years old site could be an example of the maintenance of African cultural beliefs and practices by African people translocated to Europe, even though this particular practice is not documented in the historical records. Like many other archaeological sites, Amoreira was probably known by the local populations as an ancient burial ground, given the abundance of animal and human bones at the site. This grave seems to have been arranged with a layer of sand, suggesting a level of preparation for a burial in a seemingly deviant place; in Portugal, from the Middle Ages up to mid-nineteenth centuries, the dead were generally buried in religious grounds, but this one was not.
We found that interestingly, up to present day, shell middens are actively used in western Africa. In Senegambia in particular, the usage of shell middens includes ancient and modern cemeteries. The burial of this individual in a Portuguese shell midden could indicate the recognition of the site as a meaningful place by the African community of Amoreira, possibly according to West African socio-cultural traditions. In fact, other examples of non-Christian funerary practices have been identified in a cemetery of enslaved people in the Canary Islands. Future investigations may clarify if this was an isolated event or part of a broader movement.
Murder of a young man
We attempted to identify this individual and found a document from the local church dated to Nov 1st, 1676, which mentions the murder of a young man named João at Arneiro da Amoreira, which is precisely the area where the bone remains were found. However, the church registers state that the victim was buried in the churchyard, but the bones we found were buried at Amoreira. Additionally, the murdered man is described as brown or dun, possibly describing an interracial individual, but our results show that both mother and father were of African ancestry. Whether the concurring site of the described murder and our studied bone remains is a mere coincidence, or rather the result of incompleteness, lack of detail or even accuracy of the historical records remains unknown.
Despite the incompleteness of the human remains and the historical records, the intersection of several lines of investigation enabled the reconstruction of specific aspects of the life and death of a first-generation African individual in Portugal during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade period, which would not otherwise have been possible to scrutinise from the skeletal material in the archaeological context. More importantly, it shows the value of multidisciplinary research to investigate individual African life-histories in Early Modern Europe which have been obscured in large-scale studies.
Rita Peyroteo Stjerna, Luciana G. Simões, Ricardo Fernandes, Gonçalo Lopes, Torsten Günther, Mattias Jakobsson; Multidisciplinary investigation reveals an individual of West African origin buried four centuries ago in a Portuguese Mesolithic shell midden, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Open Access https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103370
“Most people can relate to music”
06 juni 2023
Mattias Lundberg’s area of research is liturgical music from the Renaissance. However, as a professor of musicology, he is used to covering the history of music in its entirety, and in recent years he has done precisely this in radio broadcasts fr...
Music Professor Mattias Lundberg receives Royal Medal
06 juni 2023
Mattias Lundberg is familiar from several series on Sveriges Radio’s channel P2, most recently “Fråga musikprofessorn” (“Ask the Music Professor”). Now he is being awarded a royal medal. “I’m pleased that musicology and the humanities are receivi...
“The public is generally poorly informed”
29 mars 2023
Hello May-Britt Öhman, researcher at the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism and expert contributor to the Government's Committee on Reindeer Lands.What is the purpose of this inquiry?
From living heritage to zombie churches
22 mars 2023
Churches are preserved by an antiquarian system that risks killing them instead of keeping them alive. The Swedish State and the Church of Sweden therefore need to define new joint visions and goals to enable the ecclesiastical cultural heritage t...
Democracy researchers to participate in literature festival
22 mars 2023
War, crime and literature as a path to reconciliation is the theme of the Uppsala International Literature Festival on March 23–25. One of the organisers is the Democracy and Higher Education research programme at Uppsala University. Christina Kul...
ERC grant for research into Swedish slavery
03 februari 2023
Fredrik Thomasson, researcher at the Department of History at Uppsala University, has received the ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). This grant relates to a project on Swedish colonial history on the island of Saint ...
The names given to the clouds, an important part of the university's history
04 januari 2023
The book “Molnspanare– en meteorologisk historia” (Cloud spotters – a meteorological history) tells of the emergence of meteorology as a scientific subject. Among other things, you can read about how the Latin names and classification of the cloud...
The history of Easter Island can teach us about sustainability
08 december 2022
Tourism has exploded on Easter Island over the last twenty years – something that has led to both financial gain and major encroachments on the island's environment. Researchers from Uppsala are now studying how history can teach us to build a mo...
Nobel Prize-winning literature often published by small publishing houses
05 december 2022
During the Christmas trade period, books written by the latest Nobel Prize laureate tend to sell at least as well as the more traditional bestsellers. It is very important for publishers to have Nobel Prize winners on their lists, according to res...
Conference: 30 years of EU citizenship
21 november 2022
This year marks 30 years since European Union citizenship came into being. It will be highlighted at an international, interdisciplinary conference in Uppsala on 22–23 November. Both researchers and all those interested are welcome to attend.
New honorary doctors in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences
03 november 2022
The faculties at Uppsala University have decided on the award of honorary doctorates for 2022. Among the new honorary doctors at faculties in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences are researchers in economic geography, family l...
The vulnerability of surrogate mothers in a global market
17 oktober 2022
A new dissertation on surrogacy highlights Thai women's experiences of having acted as surrogate mothers. The dissertation shows the women's vulnerability in a global surrogacy industry, but also provides a more nuanced picture of what makes women...
Historical discoveries as Linnaeus Garden is excavated
07 oktober 2022
Unique pots, eighteenth-century porcelain and the bones of countless fish and birds: archaeologists who have been excavating part of the Linnaeus Garden have come across a wealth of exciting objects that can tell us more about the people and anima...
Popular 18th-century medicine in a new form
05 september 2022
Hello to Nils-Otto Ahnfelt, PhD pharmacist and visiting researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences. Together with the historian of science Hjalmar Fors, you have developed a reconstruction of the 300-year-old medicine Hjärnes Testa...
Torgny Segerstedt Medal and Geijer Prize winners announced
05 september 2022
This year’s Torgny Segerstedt Medal has been awarded to Mikael Stenmark, professor in philosophy of religion at the Department of Theology. The Geijer Prize goes to Viktor Persarvet and Astrid Wendel-Hansen.
Digging from the present down to antiquity
30 augusti 2022
Welcome to the Viking Age! The archaeology students, with their trowels and their scrapers, have dug past the medieval layers and made their way down to the 11th century, approximately 30 centimetres below today's ground level. During the seminar ...
The sheep – Gotland’s symbol of sustainability
14 juni 2022
Sheep are the strongest symbol of sustainability on Gotland, according to Gurbet Peker. Not only do real ones graze all over the island, you can even find sheep sculpted in concrete in Visby. Peker researches the day-to-day lives of lamb farmers i...
Can democracy solve the climate crisis?
13 juni 2022
Hello Linda Wedlin, organisor and moderator of a panel discussion during Almedalen Week with the theme ‘What knowledge and what kind of democracy is needed for a successful climate transition?’ What are you going to be discussing?
Mapping people of the past by means of their bones
09 maj 2022
What is the best way to find out about a human being or animal that has been dead for perhaps several centuries? “Study the bones” is what Sabine Sten, professor of osteoarchaeology, would say. They can reveal an individual's age, body length, DNA...
Transforming space and society in Kiruna
24 mars 2022
State and corporate ideas about nature, people and the future played a decisive role in the development of Kiruna as a mining town over a century ago. Since 2004, when 6,000 Kiruna residents were informed that they would have to move because of gr...