Howard University Doctoral Student Discovers New Information About the Diet of Enslaved Africans

Carter Clinton, the 2017-2018 Just Julian Scholar at Howard University, has recently made a new discovery regarding the diets of enslaved Africans.

Clinton focuses his research on the soil at a New York burial ground where enslaved Africans were laid to rest. The burial ground was discovered 27 years ago, 24 feet beneath Lower Manhattan in New York City. It contained the remains of more than 15,000 African Americans. In 1991, 419 unearthed remains were sent to the Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory at Howard University, where researchers coordinated a historical, anthropological, and biological examination of each body.

For his research, Clinton is performing a bacterial DNA, soil chemistry, and geospatial analysis of the burial ground by using the soil Howard recovered in the initial excavation. He discovered a high level of strontium in the soil, which indicated a diet heavy with vegetables. According to Clinton, this vegan diet would not have been sufficient enough for these enslaved African’s workload, suggesting that this diet was most likely forced upon them. Additionally, Clinton found evidence of a pottery substance, as well as high levels of arsenic, zinc, and copper, due to the nearby factory plant that was also used as a dumping ground.

“I believe the history of African Americans is a broken one. Considerable genomic research has been directed toward European populations, but not African descended populations,” said Clinton. “I think it’s very important to address and combat the paucity of data on African peoples. Discovering one’s ancestry and genomic identity is pertinent to the way in which they self-identify and are able to efficiently address generational health issues.”

Clinton also stresses that there is a need for more research on this topic, considering that the results may be beneficial to many other fields of work.

“If ample research is not devoted to this lack of data,” said Clinton, “this population will be left behind in the increasing shift toward precision medicine leaving the healthcare industry unable to combat existing health disparities.”

Clinton is a graduate of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, where he majored in biology. He is expected to receive his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Howard University this year.

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