RIO DE JANEIRO — In a rundown part of Rio de Janeiro’s harbor district, archaeologists are digging up fragments of a history many Brazilians would rather ignore.
Up to a million men and women forced into bondage in Africa emerged from the bellies of ships onto the Valongo wharf of what was once the world’s busiest slave-trading port. Today, as Brazil surges forward on the world stage, scholars hope the trove of beads, bracelets and statuettes they are finding will also prompt Brazilians to look backward with greater interest at their slave heritage.
The wharf that was intentionally buried in 1840 and replaced by a beautiful new port is coming back to light as part of a $5 billion project remaking Rio’s port region for tourism and business ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games.
“There was a real desire to erase Valongo, to erase this history, to take it right off the map,” said Tania Andrade Lima, chief archaeologist of the dig, as she pointed out Valongo’s rough, uneven stones. “These were sidewalks made for slaves to tread,” she said, contrasting them with the checkerboard of polished flagstones of the replacement wharf that replaced it. Read more.