Link: Ancient genome brings light to Taíno ancestry

Lizzie Wade has a news story in Science that provides a review of a new paper by Hannes Schroeder and colleagues, who have sequenced the genome of 1000-year-old skeletal remains from Preacher’s Cave, in the Bahamas. This precontact individual is consistent with linguistic and archaeological evidence showing that the Caribbean islands were colonized from South America. The genome also shows that many living people in the Caribbean region have descended in part from this precontact population.

Today’s populations of the Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico where genetics have been studied in substantial detail, have a blend of African, European, and Native American ancestry. The research paper is in PNAS: “Origins and genetic legacies of the Caribbean Taino”.

I don’t approve of the headline that Science gave Wade’s article: “Genes of ‘extinct’ Caribbean islanders found in living people”. Nature published an article with a similar headline about the Taíno in 2011 and had to issue a correction. I reflected on that instance at the time: “Watch who you call extinct!”

Despite its headline, Wade’s article puts the story into context well and quotes a variety of experts. I liked this section:

“These indigenous communities were written out of history,” says Jada Benn Torres, a genetic anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who studies the Caribbean’s population history and has worked with native groups on several islands. “They are adamant about their continuous existence, that they’ve always been [on these islands],” she says. “So to see it reflected in the ancient DNA, it’s great.”

This is a complex ethnological issue, with living people constructing their ideas of identity in part based on traditions, and in part based on recent genetic work.