Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Discover the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Story Map with Zamani Project

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Our Cultural institutions Page highlights our ongoing support of museums and cultural institutions with free accounts and access to tools. In Cultural Heritage Spotlight, we’ll explore museums and cultural institutions who are using 3D technology to bring new life to their collections. Today’s blog post features Zamani Project, a nonprofit organization which captures spatial information of Heritage Sites for restoration and conservation purposes as a record for future generations and to create a greater awareness of African Heritage.

The largest forced movements of people in human history happened between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. More than 12 million slaves were transported out of Africa during this time. The Slave Trade Story Map provides the means to explore some of the historic sites of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and to extract detailed information on some 24000 of nearly 36000 recorded voyages on over 2400 slave ship routes (Fig.1) across the Atlantic.

Fig.1: Visualization of over 2400 used slave ship routes in the Atlantic Slave Trade

The Slave Trade Story Map (Fig.2) combines the ongoing research of two independent research groups, the Zamani Project  and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database project at the Emory University, which is considered the most comprehensive source of data on slave trade voyages to date.

Fig.2: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Story Map website

The Zamani Project is a non-profit research group at the University of Cape Town that acquires 3D models of historical buildings with terrestrial laser scanners, creates Geographic Information Systems of heritage sites, as well as photographic panoramas (Fig.3), panorama tours, Virtual Reality tours of Virtual Worlds, videos and spatial databases of cultural heritage sites. The present focus of the Zamani project is to document the Cultural Heritage of Africa and the Middle East.

Fig 3: Example of 360 degree panorama of Fort St. Anthony in Axim (Ghana)

The 3D documentation of the Slave Trade forts and castles began in Ghana with the Elmina Castle in 2006, where the Zamani team acquired 150 laser scans with two Leica HDS 3000 laser scanners. This was a time when terrestrial laser scanning was in its beginning stages and only used occasionally for heritage sites and not at all in Sub-Saharan Africa. The development of terrestrial laser scanning in the past ten years has changed the fieldwork quite dramatically. Today one can scan almost ten times faster than ten years ago.

The advancement of the laser scanner technology made it possible to document very large structures, such as the St. Sebastian Fortress on Mozambique Island in 2010 (Fig.4). In just one week, the team acquired 1200 scans with two laser scanners supplied by Trimble and Leica. One year later, in 2011, the 3rd slave fort, the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, was scanned and modeled from over 250 scans.

Fig. 4: Groundplan of the St. Sebastian Fortress in Mozambique Island (Mozambique)

In 2013, seven years after the first documentation of Elmina Castle, the Zamani team went back to Ghana to document Fort St. Anthony in Axim, Fort St. Jago in Elmina (3D model below) and Fort St. Sebastian in Shama. It took five days to survey all three forts with two laser scanners supplied by Z+F. The team came home with over 500 scans.

In addition to the usual photography (Panoramas, texturing, casual images), aerial imagery was acquired (Fig. 5) using a drone (UAV). This imagery served to create a point cloud to fill missing sections of the roof tops, which were not visible to the scanner.The most recent documentation of a slave trade fort by the Zamani team was done in 2015. It was the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, which is the largest of Ghana’s forts. The field trip took 5 days and over 500 scans were acquired.

Fig.5: Aerial view of Fort St. Anthony in Axim (Ghana), acquired with a drone (UAV).

This collection of spatial data, gathered over a decade, in conjunction with Emory university slave voyages data, made it feasible to realize one of the principal investigator’s long standing interest – The creation of a slave trade database, with an emphasis on spatial data. Using an ESRI-based platform for disseminating data, this Story Map now consists of metrically accurate 3D models (Fort St. Jago, St. Sebastian and St. Antonio Models), panorama tours (Fig.3), ground plans, elevations and sections (Fig.4) of the following seven castles/forts:

  • Fort St. Anthony in Axim (Ghana)
  • Elmina Castle in Elmina (Ghana)
  • Fort St. Jago in Elmina (Ghana)
  • Fort St. Sebastian in Shama (Ghana)
  • Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast (Ghana)
  • St. Sebastian Fortress in Mozambique Island (Mozambique)
  • Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town (South Africa).

The website also contains video animations of 3D models, contextual photographs and screenshots of 3D models (Fig.6) of the above mentioned heritage sites, as well as a Geographic Information System (GIS) (Fig.7) which is based on the “Slave Voyage Database” provided by the Emory University.

Fig.6: Screenshot of the 3D model of fort St. Sebastian in Shama (Ghana)

The GIS can be queried for information on individual slave routes, slave departure and arrival places (Fig.6) and voyages to specific ship and captain names. A dataset of individual voyages, provided by Emory University comprises up to 100 different attributes, including the number of slaves embarked and disembarked, the outcome of individual voyages, the departure and arrival places, the dates of a voyage, the names of the captains and their ships.

Fig 7: Database query example for all slave-ship routes departed from Elmina, Ghana

Furthermore, the Story Map features some statistics, which shows the most frequently used slave ship routes, ship departure and arrival places, and the countries and broader region with the most number of slave arrivals (Fig.8). A deeper analysis of the the Emory slave voyage database is possible at

Fig.8: Statistics: Number of slave arrivals per country

The Zamani Project intends to add to the documented sites presented in the story map and will be traveling to the island of Goree, Senegal, in October to record the slave fort there.

Thanks again for sharing, Stephen and Heinz!

Here you can visit the Slave Trade Story Map, the Zamani Project and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database project at the Emory University.
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Raphaël Marchou

Cultural Heritage Enthusiast !

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