Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Diane Wallman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jonathan Bethard, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Tykot, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christopher R. DeCorse, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William Schaffer, Ph.D.


Contact Theory, Bioarchaeolgy, Entanglement, Paleopathology


This project utilizes a biocultural approach to assess the demographics and health of the West African population from Elmina, Ghana. Elmina, selected by the Portuguese in 1482 as the site of the first European trade fort in sub-Saharan Africa, grew from a small coastal fishing village to a large settlement over the course of more than 400 years of trade and cultural entanglement. Taken over by the Dutch and then ceded to the British, the people of Elmina navigated significant cultural changes, changes and experiences that can be detected in their skeletal remains. Bioarchaeological research concerned with the effects of colonialism and entanglement has, thus far, focused primarily on the detrimental effects of contact with Europeans; however, recent research has begun to shift away from this to focus on the resiliency of indigenous groups and retention of cultural practices. This research project used standard bioarchaeological methods to identify the remains of a minimum of 93 individuals, including men, women, adults, and nonadults, principally dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It uncovered evidence of maintained cultural traditions, including the continued focus on agriculture and fishing for subsistence. It also detected the potential presence of endemic and introduced diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis, and the treponematoses. Most importantly, this project identified the resiliency of the people of Elmina to preserve cherished cultural traditions and survive the hardships of living and working on the coast of West Africa, including disease, food scarcity, hard work, and even trauma. The skeletal biomarkers identified on the remains of the people of Elmina are proof that they survived long enough for lesions to manifest and daily life to become embodied. This project provides a valuable contribution to discussions and research surrounding the changes and continuities experienced by Indigenous peoples associated with European expansion throughout the world. It expands this research to West Africa, an area of the world that, to date, has few bioarchaeological projects focused on these themes. It also provides an important contribution to the growing data on the African Diaspora and studies focused on the lives of people affected by the trans-Atlantic trade, particularly the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This study presents a large sample against which bioarchaeologists can compare aspects of life, health, and disease of enslaved peoples throughout the African Diaspora.