Enhancing Public Access to Recent Research on the African Burial Ground Materials: Grave Soil and Oral Microbiome Analyses

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

  1. W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University
  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

The 17th and 18th century samples in the Cobb Research Laboratory are derived from the New York African Burial Ground remains currently housed at Howard University and on loan from the National Park Service. The NYABG is the nation’s earliest and largest African burial ground. These previously buried samples reflect African/African American biological diversity from the late 17th to late 18th centuries in New Amsterdam/New York City. While there are an estimated 15,000 burials, we have welldocumented, archived biological remnants from approximately 250 individuals. Research on these 17th and 18th century samples hold the key to providing evidence for important processes in human evolutionary biology and biological history. For example, the grave soil studies will reveal the biological relationship between individuals in various grave sites, the molecular sex of juveniles, the extent to which deceased individuals were exposed to specific environmental toxins and certain pathogens, and their ancestry genetics. The oral microbiome studies will yield insights into the dietary patterns of individuals, their exposure to certain infectious diseases, and their contact with ingested toxins in the form of medications and drugs. The two research projects proposed will generate unique data on the life histories and background biology of NYABG individuals. By using minimally invasive research techniques, the projects will enhance preservation of the collection while providing essential knowledge which will then be disseminated to scientific professionals, NPS interpreters, and the public. The research projects will optimize student outreach and education and increase the numbers of underrepresented ethnic minority group members in science, technology, education, and mathematics research. The NYABG is already a designated visitor site for the entire freshman class each year at Howard University. Implementation of these projects and translation of the research results to make them accessible to the general public will make the NYABG even more valued and compelling site for visitation, reflection, and growth.

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