by Grant Sherwood & Jacob Euster

The three perspectives bioarchaeologists take when analyzing the bones of those long deceased advances the scope of the work of bioarchaeologists and archaeologists alike. It forces them to reach past simply understanding data, so that they can make inferences on individuals and societies. Without these perspectives, the scope of an archaeologist would be limited, like trying to see the world simply through a spyglass. The two preceding essays attempt to advance the way archaeologists think about and interpret data by connecting these data to different ideas.

In the first paper, Sherwood used Stable Isotope analysis to reconstruct the diets of slave populations across multiple countries. He found that there was little to no regional variation within the diets of slave populations, and that the small differences that did appear were attributable to geography and not discrepancies in treatment. His focus on food production and distribution by the slave owners hypothesized that slave owners provided better quality diets to increase productivity. However, this hypothesis was determined to be incorrect due to the stable isotope results. Finally, the data gleaned from these sources allowed for interpretation of the relationship between location and diet. This paper also discussed the relationship between democratization and the treatment of slave populations. Similarities among different countries showed the contradictions that permitted slavery in the U.S. to be perpetuated, in turn demonstrating the process and evolution of democratization in a nation.

The second paper looked at how these larger themes apply to individuals. This was accomplished through the analysis of mortuary practices in various locations such as Barbados, New York City, and Delaware. For example, a burial in New York City contained items typically held by traditional African shamans. While these items likely meant that this man was highly regarded among his peers, his body still exhibited the typical signs of stress associated with long-term hard labor. Aspects such as positioning of bodies, inclusion of grave goods, and cross-analysis with historical primary documents provided a picture of New World slavery. The slave narratives shed light on themes of democratization and international conflict with a humanistic perspective, while the multiple perspectives in slave narratives allowed a deeper look at slavery and its role within democratization. Euster then took an in-depth view to understand the scale of the system of slavery and how it related to the infrastructure within democracy. Lastly, he delved into the scope of the slave trade’s unified system and the link between colonial powers and their democracies.

Overall, this set of essays provides readers with a better understanding of the lives of enslaved individuals, while addressing the larger issue of democratization during this period and the effect of democratization on slavery.

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