Buried remnants of Rio de Janeiro’s little-known slave trade past have been uncovered during work to upgrade the city for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Archaeologists have found jewellery, ceramics and items of worship from the late 19th century in the port area, where more than 500,000 slaves entered Brazil from Africa.
The discoveries were made during a £2 billion project to regenerate the region known as the Porto Maravilha, or Marvellous Port, for the Olympics.
Washington Fajardo, president of Rio’s heritage institute, said: “This population maintained their culture from ornaments to food and symbolism. These people, who suffered a lot in this human tragedy, struggled to keep their culture, and their culture was very important to Brazilian culture.”
Brazil imported an estimated four million slaves and was among the last countries to abolish slavery in 1888.
Part of the work to overhaul Rio’s port area by 2016 included restoring Valongo Wharf where the slave ships docked.
The original stone quayside has been turned into a public memorial close to where thousands of Africans were bought and sold. Meanwhile, during upgrades to the drainage system, artefacts including buttons, dominos, scissors and shoes were discovered. By the end of the year, the City Hall will display the items in one of the former coffee sheds in the Gamboa neighbourhood.
“It is a very tangible way to make clear how sad this tragedy of this slavery was,” Mr Fajardo said.
The restoration work, which started in 2009, has also uncovered naval artefacts including masts made from rare wood, cannon balls and anchors from ships that are at least 120 years old. As well as the port area, Rio’s historical circuit takes in Pedra do Sal, or Salt Rock, the Cemetery of New Blacks and the Hanging Garden of Valongo, where a collection of artefacts is on display
Mr Fajardo said that the discoveries were an indirect part of Rio’s Olympic legacy. “This is part of the transformation of the city for the Olympic Games,” he said. “We know much better about our history since we started this work, about how we used to live. So we are creating a new future for the port area but it’s based on the history.”
Originally published in The Evening Standard