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Poorly preserved DNA from African slaves reveals their origins

EurekAlert   in  · ·
March 12, 2015

Despite extensive historical knowledge about the African slave trade – including trends in the volume and demographics of the roughly 12 million people shipped from West and West Central Africa to the New World between 1500 and 1850 – fundamental details about their ethnic and geographical origins remain elusive. Dr. Hannes Schroeder from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen, who led the study, explains:

– There are historical records – merchant ledgers, shipping records and the like – but they tend to refer to coastal shipping points rather than the slaves’ actual ethnic or geographic origins and this is where the DNA comes in. It can provide new insights where historical information is missing. To our knowledge this is the first time that genome-wide data has been used to identify the origins of enslaved Africans. And given the limited knowledge we have on the slaves’ origins this is obviously quite a breakthrough.

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