The modern day Caribbean is a melting pot of diverse cultures. While it is believed that people began occupying the place between 8000 and 5000 years ago, researchers have yet to pinpoint precisely when migrant peoples began occupying the Caribbean or even where they came from.
A recent DNA study suggests that the ancient history of the Caribbean involves migration, interaction, and inhabitants mingling with newcomers around 2800 years ago.
Jada Benn Torres, a genetic anthropologist at the Vanderbilt University, says that genetic material decays more quickly in tropical environments, which explains why only a few genomes from pre-colonial Caribbean people had been sequenced prior to the new study.
The precolonial Caribbean history is divided into two eras, which are the Archaic Age, stretching back 8000 years, and the Ceramic Age, which began around 2800 years ago. According to previous archaeological studies and genetic research, during the Ceramic Age, a wave of new arrivals from northern South America brought different styles of potty as well as an agricultural lifestyle.
However, the origins of the people who lived during the Archaic Age was unclear. In response, a team of researchers conducted a DNA analysis of samples from 52 individuals from 7 Archaic Age archaeological sites in Cuba, which spanned from 3200 to 700 years ago. The study suggests that the groups came from different places.
One individual studied showed genetic similarities to a group of indigenous people who inhabited the Channel Islands in California some 5000 years ago. This raises the possibility that some of the earliest migrants of the Caribbean hailed from North America or Central America. But to establish this as fact, researchers need more genomes from ancient peoples who lived in the Yucatan Peninsula. This is according to Kathrin Nägele, author of the study and an archaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
Yadira Chinique de Armas, author of the study and an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg, believes that the findings suggest that the early inhabitants of the Caribbean were not only culturally diverse but also biologically diverse.
Another question that the researchers aim to answer is what happened when the people from the Archaic Age met the newcomers from the Ceramic Age. One individual studied by the team, who came from Puerto Rico, shows mixed Archaic Age and Ceramic Age admixture. Another paper on ancient Caribbean DNA also examined 184 early Caribbean inhabitants. The paper found two people who had mixed genes from both Archaic and Ceramic Age peoples. The two individuals lived on Hispaniola, which today includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Hannes Schroeder, an ancient DNA researcher at the University of Copenhagen, says that it is rare to see little genetic mixing between groups that interacted. Hence, there is a need to study more individuals from crucial places to understand the depth of genetic mixing.
Jorge Ulloa Hung, an archaeologist at the Museum of the Dominican Man and the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, who was not involved in either study, claims that the new genetic work erases the previously believed traditional models of history heavily influenced by European colonizers. Instead, it establishes that the Caribbean was always a mosaic of cultures, origins, and genetic ancestries.
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