February 2014: EUROTAST and Research on the Material from Saint Helena

February 2014: EUROTAST and Research on the Material from Saint Helena

Curious about how scientific research is conducted? Or how our ideas about ethnic origins, ancient diet, and cultural identity are discussed and interpreted in the lab? Further, how are decisions made that may change our fundamental viewpoints on the past? As the incoming Marie Curie Research Fellow for EUROTAST, I attended a mid-term meeting at the University of Bristol, where several PhD Fellows and their supervisors met to discuss preliminary research on the materials excavated during the Saint Helena Project.

Dr Andy Pearson, the director of the excavations at Saint Helena, was on hand to discuss the history of the island. The island was a holding point for Africans freed by the British Navy while en route to the Americas. In addition to the architectural remnants of the rudimentary barracks on the island where the Africans were held, Saint Helena also holds large cemeteries where the remains of these Africans were buried, as many died from the severe abuse they received during their capture. EUROTAST fellows are working with the materials from the excavation to determine the health, ethnicity, and diet of the Africans.

During this meeting the utmost care was taken by the participants to keep the lives and experiences of the people harmed by the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the forefront of the dialogue, even when the conversation turned to highly scientific discussions of isotopic analyses and DNA. The fellows and their supervisors discussed the ways that they could combine their relatively independent research projects to get the most information they possibly could from their samples.

As my background is primarily on the side of excavation methodology and digital interpretations, I was excited by the possibilities that were coming from this relatively mundane meeting. The discussions over statistically correct sampling, why a certain lab has to run the samples of DNA over another lab, and the incredibly detailed information you can get from studying dental calculus never eclipsed the awareness of the people and lives involved in the research of EUROTAST.

– Submitted by Colleen Morgan

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