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Slave port unearthed in Brazil

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Not far from here at least 500,000 Africans took their first steps into slavery in colonial Brazil, which took in far more slaves than the United States and where now half of its 200 million citizens claim African descent.

The “Cais do Valongo” – the Valongo Wharf – was the busiest of all slave ports in the Americas and has been buried for almost two centuries under subsequent infrastructure projects and dirt.

That is, until developers seeking to turn Rio’s shabby port neighborhood into a posh tourist center allowed teams of archaeologists to check out what was being unearthed.

“We knew we had found the wharf,” says archaeologist Tania Andrade Lima, showing a ramp made up of knobbly, uneven stones used by slaves. It lay beneath a layer of smoother cobblestones from a dock installed later for the arrival of a Portuguese royal.

Ms. Lima and other community leaders are creating a walking tour that will include the wharf, a nearby cemetery for Africans who died soon after their arrival, and a holding pen called the “Lazareto,” derived from Jesus’ parable about a beggar named Lazarus, where newly arrived Africans were checked for diseases.

The wharf alone is nearly 22,000 square feet. “This gives a dimension to how huge the influx of slaves was,” says Lima.

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