In the late 1980s, archaeologists unearthed three skeletons in a mass grave in Mexico City, at the former site of a 16th-century hospital that served indigenous people. What made these skeletons stand out was their teeth, which were filed into shapes much like those found in people from parts of West Africa, as well as in African slaves held in Portugal, per Science Magazine. Now, subsequent analysis of the remains' DNA and chemicals found in the skeletons' teeth has the research world abuzz. "To the best of our knowledge, they are the earliest genetically identified first-generation Africans in the Americas," researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History write in Current Biology. In addition to the teeth shape, the skeletons held a "Y-chromosome lineage" and dental isotopes that sync up with those found in West Africa.
Gizmodo notes the examination of these remains shines "new light on this grim period of history." Signs of abuse were found in the skeletons of all three men, believed to be in their late 20s or early 30s, lending more weight to the idea they were slaves. One showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds, while another had a broken leg that hadn't healed properly, indicating stress from hard labor. At least two apparently suffered from malnutrition and anemia. Those two also hosted pathogens more closely tied to African strains. "Our work adds important information on the origin, health status, and life histories of the first generation of African slaves that were forcefully relocated and transported to the New World during one of the most horrific cases of callous disregard for human life and violation of human rights during the colonial period," the researchers write. (Read more discoveries stories.)