October 3, 2020 @ 1:30 PM: Dr. M. Dores Cruz, Institut für Afrikanistik Universität zu Köln

Sugar, identity and Class: São Tomé and Príncipe in the making of the early modern Atlantic world

In the 15th and 16th century, São Tomé and Príncipe was considered as so remote that volunteer settlers were rare, and early settlement was done almost exclusively with those who could not refuse: degredados (transported convicts) from Portugal and slaves from the African coast. Due to its location it acted as a nexus between Europe-Africa and the Americas, playing a pioneering role in the emergence of the modern Atlantic world and the capitalist plantation system. Seen first as a bridge between Portugal and West Africa, soon it emerged as the prototype for plantation agriculture based on the binomial sugar-slave labor, which was later exported to the New World, where it developed and expanded. Despite its importance there has been no archaeological research in São Tomé and heritage projects are very limited.

This paper presents exploratory research done in March 2020, aimed to evaluate the possibility for a historical archaeology project, centered in the sugar economic cycle of São Tomé, suggesting lines of evidence and preliminary data on possible location of plantations sites. It centers on the archaeological site of Praia Melão, the only known and identified sugar mill in São Tomé, already in existence during the early sugar plantation period, occupied and in use until early to mid-19th century. I will introduce the site and explore the centrality of São Tomé and Príncipe in the making of the Atlantic world, the need for archaeological research to answer questions on the unique role of island territories in the development of the Atlantic world and in the history of the African continent.


M. Dores Cruz graduated from Binghamton University (SUNY) with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Her interests are interdisciplinary and cross both archaeology, history and socio-cultural anthropology, focusing particularly in archaeology of the recent past, heritage and landscape studies in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Europe. Her recent research has focuses in the biography of a landscape in Southern Mozambique during the 19th and 20th centuries. Currently she is developing a project to address the origins of the plantation system and of the Atlantic world by focusing in São Tomé and Príncipe during the 16th and 17th centuries.

She has held a number of international teaching and research positions (College of William and Mary, University of Pretoria (South Africa), Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Denver). Currently, Dores is a senior researcher at the Institute of African Studies, University of Cologne (Germany).

The Denver Society of the Archaeological Institute of America