Infernal Traffic

Excavation of a Liberated African Graveyard in Rupert’s Valley, St Helena

Andrew Pearson, Ben Jeffs, Annsofie Witkin & Helen MacQuarrie

St Helena Cover image Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807 did not end the traffic of human beings across the Atlantic. Indeed, for many decades to come, hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans continued to be shipped into slavery. From 1840 to 1872 the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena played a pivotal role in Britain’s efforts to suppress the slave trade, and over this time it received over 25,000 ‘liberated Africans’, taken from slave ships by Royal Navy patrols. Conditions aboard the slavers were appalling, and many did not survive the journey. Rupert’s Valley therefore became a graveyard to many thousands of Africans – ‘a valley of dry bones’ in the words of a visiting missionary.

In 2008 archaeological excavations uncovered a small part of that graveyard, revealing the burials of over 300 victims of the slave trade. It was disposal on a massive scale, with the dead interred in a combination of single, multiple and mass graves. This book presents the finding of the archaeological and osteological study, and in so doing brings the inhumanity of the slave trade into vivid focus. It tells the story of a group of children and young adults who had lived in Africa only a few weeks prior to their death on St Helena, and whose remains bear witness to the cruelty of their transportation. However, the archaeology also shows them as more than just victims, but also as individuals with a sense of their own identity and culture. The slave trade continues to this day, and although this book is a study of the past it also serves as a reminder of evils that persist into the modern day.

Key Points

  1. This site is the only graveyard that solely contains the remains of Middle Passage victims
  2. Provides a thorough historical overview of St Helena’s ‘Liberated African Establishment’
  3. Presents the findings of the archaeological, osteological and artefactual studies
  4. Accessible but informative style
  5. Extensively illustrated in colour
  6. Accompanied by detailed digital appendices

About the Authors

The Rupert’s Valley project has been undertaken by a group of professional archaeologists from both the academic and commercial sectors. The project director, Dr Andrew Pearson, is an archaeologist and historian in the department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol. He is also a private consultant with over ten years’ experience of archaeological projects in the UK and abroad. Mr Ben Jeffs is director of Blackfreighter Archaeology and Conservation, a company which carries out archaeological and built heritage projects on a world-wide basis. Dr Annsofie Witkin is an osteologist with over twenty years’ experience in her field: formerly a Project Officer with Oxford Archaeology she has recently completed a PhD in the Archaeology and Anthropology department of Bristol University. Miss Helen MacQuarrie is a professional field archaeologist, currently working as a Project Officer for AOC Archaeology. Her ongoing academic research focuses on the artefactual remains of the slave trade.


This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the slave trade and its abolition. Its broad-based approach makes it accessible to historians, archaeologists and osteologists, and to the interested public.

Info: ISBN: 978-1-902771-89-2; 204pp, 151 illus including colour; December 2011

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Andrew Pearson

Ben Jeffs

Annsofie Witkin

Helen MacQuarrie

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£30 / $60