Archaeology, the study of our past through the excavation and analysis of artefacts and structures, continues to shed light on the mysteries of civilizations long gone. In an ambitious archaeological project spanning nine years, the Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project (CAHP) has embarked on a mission to uncover secrets buried deep beneath the earth’s surface. This article explores the objectives, methods, and intriguing discoveries of this groundbreaking archaeological excavation.
The primary goal of this archaeological heritage project is to uncover the histories and legacies of the Danish transatlantic slave trade at Christiansborg/Osu Castle. By meticulously excavating the sites and studying the artefacts, the researchers aim to piece together the complex puzzle of this community, and understand their customs, lifestyles, and contributions to Ghanaian and global history.
During the transatlantic slave trade, guns, ammunition, liquor, cloth, iron tools, brass objects and glass beads were exchanged for gold and ivory, as well as captive Africans. Approximately 125,000 Africans were transported to the Danish West Indies, and enslaved on plantations in St Croix, St John and St Thomas islands (today, the US Virgin islands).
The CAHP project combines traditional archaeological techniques with cutting-edge technology, to uncover and interpret the past. The excavation site was carefully selected, based on extensive archival research. Once on-site, the team employs systematic archaeological excavation methods, documenting each layer and artefact discovered. The archaeologists analyze their findings, sometimes in the laboratory, in order to date, and gain a comprehensive understanding of the artefacts’ origins and their significance.
The CAHP has trained a team of 30 men and women from the local community to be archaeologists. Some are direct descendants of Danish men and their African wives, who lived in and around the Castle during the eighteenth century. They still carry the Danish surnames of their ancestors.
In fact, Prof. Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann’s great, great, great, great, great grandfather – was a Governor of Christiansborg Castle from 1752 to 1757. His name is inscribed on the well in the Castle courtyard. Governor Engmann married Ashiokai, a Ga chief’s daughter.
Throughout the duration of the project, numerous captivating discoveries have come to light. The team has excavated a village settlement that includes the foundations of houses. This includes a kitchen with three stones and charcoal.
They have also found what are commonly known as ‘African trade beads’ but were produced in Italy and Holland. Ceramics from China and Europe lie alongside local pottery.
They have excavated African, Dutch, English, German and Danish clay smoking pipes, as well as European glassware. There are a number of other small finds including a slate, typically used for writing, as well as seeds, metals, stone, daub, cowrie and other shells.
With the assistance of local fishermen, they even excavated a canon buried in sand, that had fallen from the castle above on to the beach below.
This year, the project has expanded with the Mellon Foundation in New York. Prof. Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann, the brain and face behind the project, collaborated with local artists to tell the rich heritage stories of some of the historic houses in Osu, and the personalities that lived within them through the CAHP community mural project. These amazing stories are told through beautiful murals on the walls of the family houses. Lastly, the project has established a community library where children can go to read and also participate in the Archaeology Club – a program that conducts archaeology, art, and science classes at the weekend.
As the CAHP project reveals, this archaeological heritage journey has unveiled a wealth of knowledge about the Osu past. The CAHP project’s impact reaches far beyond the confined realm of academia, fostering a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the history and people of Osu. Together, they are rewriting history.
Director, Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project (CAHP)