New Book: “Infernal Traffic—Excavation of a Liberated African Graveyard in Rupert’s Valley, St Helena”

In relation to the post above, Casualties of the Caribbean Slave Trade: 5,000 Bodies Found on Remote Island of Saint Helena, I wanted to bring attention to this new book, Infernal Traffic: Excavation of a Liberated African Graveyard in Rupert’s Valley, St Helena (Council for British Archaeology, 2012) by Andrew Pearson, Ben Jeffs, Annsofie Witkin, and Helen MacQuarrie. Infernal Traffic is a book about St Helena’s central role in the liberation of Africans aboard illegal slave-running vessels between 1840 and 1872. It also describes the first archaeological excavation on this historic British island—and, according to St Helena Online, the only substantial dig relating to the notorious Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade.

Description: 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.

For more on the dig, the book, and the very moving history of St Helena and the slave trade by Mark Horton, see

For more information, see and

5 thoughts on “New Book: “Infernal Traffic—Excavation of a Liberated African Graveyard in Rupert’s Valley, St Helena”

  1. But for these enslaved peoples, even in death there is little rest. Why are their bones / relics displayed in Liverpool rather than respected and immediately returned to the African continent? With today’s technology it would even be possible to confirm exactly which part of the African continent each person was from. Do the right thing, better late than never, send them back home for a home-coming / burial ceremony.


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