Reconstructing an 18th Century British Slave Castle
in Sierra Leone (West Africa)
Using Computer Animation


   Project Directors

   Joseph Opala

   Gary Chatelain
    computer artist

Basic Concepts
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Click on concepts for information
  • Bunce
  •     Sierra
  •       Slave
  • Atlantic
    Slave Trade
  •   North American
  • Project
  • The
  • Virtual
  • Preservation
  •   Future of
      Bunce Island
BUNCE ISLAND is a British slave castle in the Republic of Sierra Leone in West Africa. Slave traders representing four British companies – all based in London – operated there successively between about 1670 and 1807, putting tens of thousands of African captives aboard slave ships bound for the West Indies and North America.
SIERRA LEONE is a small country on the coast of West Africa. A former British colony, it gained its independence in 1961. Freetown, the capital city, is located at the entrance to a great harbor, called the "Sierra Leone River."  Bunce Island lies about 17 miles upriver from Freetown at the limit of navigation for large, ocean-going ships.
SLAVE CASTLES are the large fortified trading posts that European companies built along the coast of West Africa during the period of the Atlantic slave trade.  There were about 40 major castles operated by companies based in Portugal, Holland, England, France, Sweden, Denmark, etc.  Slave castles have been called "Warehouses of Humanity." The slave traders based there purchased African captives and held them until the slave ships came to transport them across the Atlantic to bondage in the Americas.
The ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE was driven by the plantation economy in the Americas, especially the production of sugar, but also cotton, indigo, tobacco, coffee, rice, and other warm-weather crops that could not be grown in Europe. Between about 1500 and 1850, European slave traders put more than 11 million African captives aboard slave ships bound for Brazil, the West Indies, and North America. Many captives died on the terrible "middle passage, " the voyage between Africa and the New World.
NORTH AMERICAN LINKS made Bunce Island unusual in the Atlantic slave trade. Although only about 4% of the African captives taken across the Atlantic went to North America, Bunce Island had strong links to South Carolina and Georgia where rice was the staple crop. Farmers in Sierra Leone had been growing rice for centuries, and American rice planters paid premium prices for enslaved people from that area.
Our PROJECT GOALS begin with a computer reconstruction of Bunce Island as it appeared in 1805 when a British traveler, named Joseph Corry, made the last known period drawing of the castle. Corry's drawing is detailed, but inaccurate in many ways. By using the tools of virtual archaeology, though, we can see what Bunce Island really looked like in 1805, and add many realistic details, including people, ships, period artifacts, etc.
THE RUINS of Bunce Island are impressive. Many stone walls still stand – some up to 40 feet high – but others have collapsed, and the wooden features have long since decayed in Sierra Leone's tropical climate. The rate of disintegration of the ancient buildings is also increasing now due to industrial activity in the area.   In 2008, the World Monuments Fund placed Bunce Island on its list of the world's most endangered historic sites.
VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY uses 3-D computer graphics to visualize scientific data. Its most powerful tool is the 3-D reconstruction of ancient buildings and landscapes. Archaeologists can now create photo-realistic images of houses and entire settlements, showing them in naturalistic detail as they appeared centuries ago.
PRESERVATION EFFORTS have moved slowly at Bunce Island, but there have been some promising developments in recent years. Between 2010 and 2012, a research project brought in archaeologists, structural engineers, and materials scientists to survey the ruins. In 2012, UNESCO named Bunce Island a tentative World Heritage Site. The Sierra Leone Government is now working with experts to help preserve and interpret the castle.
The FUTURE OF BUNCE ISLAND will include the stabilization of the ruins, weather-proof outdoor displays, and a visitor's center. To assist that effort, our project will donate computer-generated stills and video of the castle as it appeared in 1805.  Bunce Island's unique connection to North America means that once the site is preserved and interpreted, African Americans will be going there in large numbers every year.

Seeing the Atlantic Slave Trade
The Atlantic slave trade took place before the invention of photography, so in order to see places like Bunce Island and understand their terrible impact on the lives of millions, we must use the tools of virtual archaeology.

Move cursor on and off image to go back in time

Move cursor on and off image to go back in time

In the Footsteps of Thomas Clarkson
We are following in the footsteps of Thomas Clarkson, who led the movement against the slave trade in 18th century Britain. Clarkson developed a "broadside" (or poster) that showed 482 Africans packed aboard the slave ship Brooks. It became one of the best known images of the time, and no one who saw it could argue with its message – that the slave trade was utterly monstrous.

By using 21st century computers, we are helping make the Atlantic slave trade more real than ever before. Our goal is to reinforce the terrible lessons of the slave trade for those living today, and for the generations to come.

North American Connections

But Bunce Island was not just a slave trading base, it was unique among the major slave castles on the West African coast for its strong connections to North America.

Many of the captives sold at Bunce Island were taken to South Carolina and Georgia, where rice planters paid premium prices for slaves from Sierra Leone and neighboring areas where African farmers had grown rice for centuries.

Bunce Island was so well known to American planters as a source for captives with rice-growing skills that its name often appeared in slave auction adverts in Charleston and Savannah.

Bunce Island is the most important historic site in Africa for the United States. So, the more
we learn about Bunce Island, the more we learn about both African and American history. and

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