Skip to content

3 Africans in Mexico City Grave Tell Stories of Slavery’s Toll

In a 16th century mass grave uncovered in Mexico City, the discovery of 3 Africans’ remains has shed further light on the earliest days of slavery and the treatment that befell the people who fell into its grasp. The three skulls were unlike hundreds of others in the 16th-century mass grave uncovered at the San José de los Naturales Royal Hospital in Mexico City. Their front teeth were filed decoratively, perhaps as a ritual custom, unlike those of “los naturales,” the Indigenous people who made up the majority of bodies at the colonial burial site. Archaeologists concluded the three individuals were most likely enslaved Africans. The team removed a molar from each of the three skulls to extract and analyze their DNA. The genetic signatures obtained from the molars showed the three men had their origins in Western or Southern Africa. They also found isotopes on the teeth that further indicated they were all born and grew up outside of Mexico.