Dynamics of Indian Ocean slavery revealed through isotopic data from the colonial era Cobern Street Burial site, Cape Town, South Africa (1750-1827)

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) intended the Cape of Good Hope to be a refreshment stop for ships travelling between the Netherlands and its eastern colonies. The indigenous Khoisan, however, did not constitute an adequate workforce, therefore the VOC imported slaves from East Africa, Madagascar and Asia to expand the workforce. Cape Town became a cosmopolitan settlement with different categories of people, amongst them a non-European underclass that consisted of slaves, exiles, convicts and free-blacks. This study integrated new strontium isotope data with carbon and nitrogen isotope results from an 18 th -19 th century burial ground at Cobern Street, Cape Town, to identify non-European forced migrants to the Cape. The aim of the study was to elucidate individual mobility patterns, the age at which the forced migration took place and, if possible, geographical provenance. Using three proxies, 87 Sr/ 86 Sr, δ 13 C dentine and the presence of dental modifications, a majority (54.5%) of the individuals were found to be born non-locally. In addition, the 87 Sr/ 86 Sr data suggested that the non-locally born men came from more diverse geographic origins than the migrant women. Possible provenances were suggested for two individuals. These results contribute to an improved understanding of the dynamics of slave trading in the Indian Ocean world.