Now these burials are back in the news because DNA studies are being carried out on the bones. Historians have long wanted to know where the 12 million Africans kidnapped and shipped to the New World came from. Written records help, but the surviving records represent only a fraction of slave voyages and they note only the point of embarkation. Since we know that some slaves had been brought hundreds of miles from the interior before they were sold to the ships, the port of embarkation is a very general sort of clue. In principle DNA study of slave skeletons might reveal much more precisely where these people came from. The burials on St. Helena are also an ideal population to study, since they represent a sample of the whole trade, not just the slaves destined for any particular port, and they were all born in Africa, avoiding the complications of later mixing that confuse the results from New World slave cemeteries. The biggest obstacle is actually the poor genetic record of modern Africa, where there have been few studies compared to Europe or North America. Still, results are starting to come in. Geneticists
collected DNA from the teeth of 63 individuals and sequenced partial genomes from 20 of the best-preserved samples. Comparisons with contemporary African populations suggested that the liberated slaves came from diverse African backgrounds. A few individuals shared ancestry with contemporary West and Central African ethnic groups such as the Bamoun and Kongo, but for most, none of the African groups that the team compared them with was an especially close match. Schroeder attributes that to a lack of genomic data from places such as Angola and Mozambique.After polling the views of people on St. Helena, the government is arranging for the reburial of all these people near where they were found. Which is what ought to happen. But it would be nice if more DNA samples were collected first.