Preacher's Cave in Eleuthera.
AN international team of scientists, led by Dr Hannes Schroeder and Professor Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen, successfully reconstructed the full genome of a Lucayan-Taino individual from a thousand-year-old tooth discovered at Preacher’s Cave on Eleuthera.
Previous attempts to extract DNA from other samples from archaeological sites across the Caribbean had limited success because of the poor preservation conditions common throughout the tropics, a press released from researchers noted.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results indicate that the Lucayan-Taino ancestry can be traced to northern South America. The researchers also found evidence that the Taino, the first indigenous Americans to feel the full impact of European colonisation after Columbus arrived in the New World, still have living descendants in the Caribbean today.
The tooth Dr Schroeder and his colleagues used to reconstruct the genome was discovered by an archaeological team directed by historian Dr Jane S Day of Research Atlantica Inc under the field direction of Robert S Carr, director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, and identified by bioarchaeologist Dr William Shaffer of Phoenix College. The tooth was recovered in 2007 as part of an extensive study of Preacher’s Cave, a Bahamian cave used for shelter by the Eleutheran Adventurers, the first English colonists in The Bahamas, who were shipwrecked on north Eleuthera in 1648.
The archaeological team was surprised to discover intact Lucayan-Taino graves within metres of the Eleutheran Adventurers’ cemetery. The project was carried out with a permit and support from the Antiquities, Monuments & Museum Corporation (AMMC), and funded by the Ministry of Tourism working toward the goal of establishing Preachers Cave as a National Heritage Tourism Park. The picturesque cave is a protected archaeological site that will enhance tourism on Eleuthera and The Bahamas.
Researchers were able to use this tooth to sequence the first complete ancient human genome from the Caribbean. The individual studied was a woman who lived between the 8th and 10th centuries, at least five hundred years before Columbus made landfall in The Bahamas. The results provide unprecedented insights into the genetic makeup of the Lucayan-Taino. This includes the first clear evidence that there has been some degree of continuity between indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and some contemporary communities living in the region today, despite the devastating effects of European colonisation. Such a link had previously been suggested by other studies based on modern DNA. None of these, however, was able to draw on the ancient genome. The new research finally provides concrete proof that indigenous ancestry in the region has survived through to the present day.
Crucially, researchers found that the Native American component in the genomes of contemporary Puerto Ricans corresponds more closely to the ancient Lucayan-Taino genome than that of any other indigenous group in the Americas. However, they argue that this characteristic is unlikely to be exclusive to Puerto Ricans alone and are convinced that future studies will reveal similar genetic legacies in other Caribbean communities. In Eleuthera, Dr Day and Mr Carr collected numerous oral histories that suggest some residents of The Current are descended from the Lucayan-Taino.
The researchers were also able to trace the genetic origins of the indigenous Caribbean islanders, showing that they were most closely related to Arawakan-speaking groups who live in parts of northern South America today. This suggests that the origins of at least some of the population can be traced back to the Amazon and Orinoco Basins, where Arawakan languages developed, confirming existing arguments based on archaeological evidence of Taino migrations from South America northward through the Antilles.