MADISON The adage that dead men tell no tales has long been disproved by archaeology.
Now, however, science is taking interrogation of the dead to new heights. In a study that promises fresh and perhaps personal insight into the earliest European visitors to the New World, a team or researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is extracting the chemical details of life history from the teeth of crew members Christopher Columbus left on the island of Hispaniola after his second voyage to America in 1493-94.
"This is telling us about where people came from and what they ate as children," explains T. Douglas Price, a UW-Madison professor of anthropology and the leader of the team conducting an analysis of the tooth enamel of three individuals from a larger group excavated almost 20 years ago from shallow graves at the site of La Isabela, the first European town in America.
Price and colleague James Burton, in collaboration with researchers from the Autonomous University of the Yucatan in Mexico, are attempting to flesh out the details of a colony that lasted less than five years. The human remains used in the study were buried without the formalities of coffins or shrouds, and were excavated from what was once the church graveyard of the town Columbus established. Headstones and other identifying markers have long since faded to nothing or have been lost entirely during the 500 years since the bodies were first interred.
Despite its brief existence, historians and archaeologists believe La Isabela was a substantial settlement with a church, public buildings such as a customhouse and storehouse, private dwellings and fortifications. It is also the only known settlement in America where Columbus actually lived.
Although the town has been the subject of previous archaeological studies, the work by Price, Burton and their colleague Vera Tiesler and Andrea Cucina of the Autonomous University of the Yucatan is
|Contact: T. Douglas Price|
University of Wisconsin-Madison