Bunce Island Slave Castle
Importance for African Americans
Virtual Archaeology Project
Bunce Island Weblinks
Clues from History and Archaeology
Brief History of Bunce Island
Bunce Island Reconstructed
Project Team and Sponsors
The Castle Complex
Where We Go From Here . . . . .
Visit Bunce Island in 1805
Make a Contribution

Seeing the Slave Trade

Photo by Diane Elliott
    Gary Chatelain (left) and Joseph Opala working on their computer animation of
    Bunce Island. Opala is holding a 19th century drawing
of the castle.

We are reconstructing Bunce Island as it appeared in the year 1805. Using virtual archaeology techniques, we are creating vivid images of the castle and its buildings based on archaeological data, period drawings, and period descriptions of the castle written during its heyday. Virtual Archaeology allows us to picture a slave trade operation in 3-D and to create aerial views and realistic perspectives not seen in 200 years.

Computers make it possible to see the Atlantic slave trade and understand its meaning as never before. Using them, we can comprehend more fully what African captives endured on their forced journey to America.

Going Beyond the Imagination

© 2008 Chatelain and Opala     West side of the Bunce Island castle in 1805 (computer reconstruction)

The Atlantic slave trade was one of the most horrific episodes in human history. Between about 1550 and 1850, European slave traders put an estimated 12 million Africans aboard slave ships bound for the West Indies, Brazil, and North America. About 2 million Africans perished on the middle passage, their bodies thrown overboard. This was the largest forced migration in history, and one

The Atlantic slave trade took place before the advent of photography. Unlike the Jewish holocaust and other terrible crimes of the modern era that should also never be forgotten, it was never photographed. There are no films or still photos. We can only imagine the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade.

But the Bunce Island Virtual Archaeology Project is helping us go beyond our imaginations to actually see how the Atlantic slave trade was carried out.

Project Leaders

Joseph Opala, an historian, and Gary Chatelain, a computer artist, began work on the Bunce Island Virtual Archaeology Project in 2004. They have now completed the reconstruction of all the buildings and have begun to fill the castle's interior rooms with period furnishings, slave trading goods, cargo, and 18th century artifacts of various types.

Andy Hall, a nautical archaeologist and computer artist, has also created a virtual slave ship based on the original plans of a brig built in the early 19th century. Mr. Hall's ship -- rendered in detail and with great historical accuracy -- appears in the Bunce Island animation video anchored just below the castle.

© 2008 Chatelain and Opala     Early stage in the digital reconstruction of the slave castle

Andy Hall     Early stage in the digital reconstruction of the slave ship

We have also contacted human figure animators who will create the people who inhabited the castle: the British slave traders and their African workers; the slave merchants who came with captives and goods to sell; a slave ship captain and his crew; the local African king who came once a year to collect his rent; and the enslaved men, women and children imprisoned in the castle's open-air "slave yards."

Project Goals

© 2008 Chatelain and Opala     Bunce Island castle in 1805, showing the jetty and roadway to the main gate (computer reconstruction)

We are creating a unique educational resource that will enable users to turn back the clock and see the Atlantic slave trade as it really was.

When we finish the computer animation, we will produce an educational CD that will allow viewers to click their way through an African slave trading operation and see it exactly as it appeared 250 years go. Viewers will be able to enter each and every room and see for themselves what Africans endured during their forced migration to America.

The educational CD will contain explanatory text, period drawings and documents relating to Bunce Island, as well as photos of the ruins and pictures of African Americans who have visited the castle in recent years. The visitors' reactions are extremely telling.

Educational Applications

Educational CD & Website. We are holding discussions with a slavery studies institute at a major university about the possibility of publishing the educational CD and distributing it to teachers and libraries throughout the U.S. The institute is also interested in using parts of the Bunce Island CD as a website that will be available to everyone online.

Museum Exhibits. We created an animated "movie" in 2005 for an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society called "Finding Priscilla's Children: The Roots and Branches of Slavery." The movie shows what an African child exiled from Bunce Island would have seen through her own eyes as she was taken from the children's prison, through the interior of the castle, and down to the slave ship. We are now holding discussions with other museums about creating exhibits on Bunce Island to illustrate the slave trade.

Documentary Film. We are working with Charleston filmmaker Jacque Metz on a documentary video on Bunce Island and its slave trade links to South Carolina and Georgia. By the time the video is finished, our animated scenes will be much more detailed than those we produced for the New York exhibit and will contain human figures.

Traveling Exhibit. We have created an exhibit on Bunce Island that is now traveling to colleges, museums, and libraries in the United States and Canada. The exhibit highlights the historical importance of Bunce Island and features our computer reconstruction images and video of the castle. All proceeds from the exhibit go to our virtual archaeology project.

Preservation of Bunce Island. When Bunce Island is finally preserved and interpreted as an historic site, our computer animation will be an invaluable asset. Current plans are for the castle to be stabilized, but not reconstructed. Our computer animation will show visitors exactly what the castle looked like during its final years as a slave trading outpost. The images can be used in an orientation center and put in outdoor exhibits in the ruins.

Archaeological Data Bank. Our Bunce Island computer animation can be changed and updated quite easily as more and more archaeological data on the castle are collected. Professor Opala took part in a new archaeological survey of the castle in 2006 led by Dr. Christopher DeCorse of Syracuse University with funds provided by the U.S. State Department. DeCorse's latest findings have already been incorporated in the animation.

Photo by Bosman Murray     Archaeological survey, 2006 (right: Christopher DeCorse; left: Joseph Opala)

Prev Page Next Page