Cobern Street burial ground : investigating the identity and life histories of the underclass of eighteenth century Cape Town

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Cobern Street site was shown to be a burial ground only in 1994, when a number of skeletons were disinterred prior to building operations. Attempts to locate documentary records of the burials have been unsuccessful, and we do not know who these people were. The lack of documentary records is unusual, and suggests that Cobern Street may have been the burial ground for lower-class citizens. From the history of the site, and the few items buried with the bodies, we can deduce that they are eighteenth century burials. As part of the investigation into the identity of these people five techniques of dietary tracing have been applied to 53 of the excavated skeletons, and are reported in this thesis. Analysis of different skeletal elements has allowed us to reconstruct the life histories of some of these people. Of particular interest are several skeletons with filed teeth. This practice is not known from the Cape, but is common further north in Africa. Isotopic analysis of teeth and long bones from the skeletons with decorated teeth show that these individuals were of tropical origin, from diverse areas, and are likely to be slaves brought to the Cape.

Bibliography: leaves 215-239.