The personal stories of 3 enslaved Africans, as told by their bones

The skull of one of the individuals studied along with tubes for genetic and isotope testing.

(CNN)Despite the wealth of knowledge regarding the transatlantic slave trade, the history of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to Latin America has yet to be fully explored.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, scientists tell the stories of three 16th-century enslaved Africans identified from a mass burial site in Mexico City, according to analyses of their bones.
African roots may have been invisible in Mexico and Latin America because of the history of the mestizo in Mexico, said first author Rodrigo Barquera, a graduate student at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Mestizo refers to people of white European and indigenous American ancestry.
    "The Mexican mestizo celebrated the European and Native American roots coming together very strong after a little bit of struggle, but they usually leave out the African roots when they're talking about this story," he added.
    Barquera and his team of researchers are hoping that their findings, captured within the bones of these enslaved Africans, will be a step in sharing their stories and addressing the erasure of history in the self-identities of Mexican peoples.
    When the researchers noticed modifications on the individuals' teeth indicating different African cultural practices, they decided to study their genetics and personal histories.
    "All of us involved in the study were highly touched by the whole story about these three persons, everything that they went through," Barquera said.
    "Knowing that they were first-generation enslaved Africans brings a new perspective on the whole subject because you know they were abducted. You're seeing all these maltreatment signatures on the bones that came with this abduction, what they suffered for the rest of their lives.
    "Everyone working on this paper was telling us a different part of the whole story. Our results in the end came to a whole story."

    Colonial Mexico's role in the transatlantic slave trade

    More than 500 years ago in 1518, Charles I of Spain authorized retrieving and transporting the first enslaved Africans to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which ultimately consisted of present day Mexico, the Caribbean, parts of the United States and Canada and Central America except for Panama, the study said.
    High demand for enslaved manual laborers and establishment of the first European settlements in what's referred to as the "New World" spurred the growth and consolidation of the transatlantic slave trade, which forcibly deported 10.6 to 19.4 million Africans from their homelands until slavery was abolished in most of the Americas in the 1860s, the study reported.
    Between 130,000 and 150,000 Africans had arrived in the Viceroyalty of New Spain by 1779, when intake of enslaved people into New Spain was banned. New Spain brought in about 70,000 enslaved people between 1600 and 1640, to compensate for a loss of indigenous laborers resulting from casualties during the European conquest and from diseases (smallpox, measles and typhoid fever) that decimated most of the indigenous people.
    Africans were thought to have higher resistance to these diseases compared to indigenous Americans and Europeans, which made them desirable workers.
    Five centuries later, the study said, the hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans form a large part of Mexico's genetic and cultural heritage.

    A mass burial site

    The San José de los Naturales Royal Hospital was founded in Mexico City between 1529 and 1531.
    According to the study, the development of this hospital was to care for the indigenous people of the Viceroyalty of the New Spain, and for victims of smallpox outbreaks that transpired during the early years of the Colonial period.
    However, the outbreak abated close to the hospital's construction, so the bodies in the mass burial associated with the hospital were likely affected by another epidemic, Barquera said.

    Finding their bones

    The skeletons of the three individuals were recovered from the mass burial site in the grounds near the hospital during the excavations for a new subway line in downtown Mexico City in 1992, under the supervision of two archaeologists who weren't part of the study.
    The mass grave contained skeletal remains of individuals disposed in layers, the study said, which "is consistent with burials made during epidemics, in which dead bodies rapidly outnumber the availability of single graves."
    The bones of all the individuals were transferred to the Osteology Laboratory at the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico, where little work was performed on them aside from anthropological studies, Barquera said.
    In 2012, Barquera and a coauthor began working on the bones as they showed dental modification patterns that were found to indicate different African cultural practices.
    "So we were wondering whether we could do a more det