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The environmental effects of the global slave trade

Dr. Justin Dunnavant during an underwater archaeology excavation
Dr. Justin Dunnavant during an underwater archaeology excavation

On this edition of Your Call, we’ll speak with archaeologist Dr. Justin Dunnavant about the environmental impacts of the transatlantic slave trade with a focus on the former Danish West Indies, which are now the US Virgin Islands. Between 1500 and 1875, 4.8 million enslaved Africans were brought to the Caribbean, compared with 389,000 brought to the US. About a million people died in transit.

Dr. Dunnavant has conducted archaeological research in the field and underwater with Diving with a Purpose, an organization that specializes in the documentation, protection and interpretation of African slave trade shipwrecks. He’s part of the training program that searches for sunken slave ships. In the US, there are fewer than 20 Black archaeologists doing maritime archaeology work related to slavery and the African diaspora.


Dr. Justin Dunnavant, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA, National Geographic Explorer, co-founder of the Society of Black Archaeologists, and instructor with Diving with a Purpose

Web Resources:

National Geographic: Justin Dunnavant: Excavating stories from the relics of our past

UCLA: Under sea and on land, archaeologist Justin Dunnavant is creating a more just future

National Geographic: The search for lost slave ships led this diver on an extraordinary journey

Bee Soll is a producer with Your Call at KALW, and a producer, writer, and editor at KCBS Radio in San Francisco. She is a former reporter for Crosscurrents and contributor at KPFA Radio.