Genes of ‘extinct’ Caribbean islanders found in living people

Source: Science Magazine

Jorge Estevez grew up in the Dominican Republic and New York City hearing stories about his native Caribbean ancestors from his mother and grandmother. But when he told his teachers that he is Taino, an indigenous Caribbean, they said that was impossible. “According to Spanish accounts, we went extinct 30 years after [European] contact,” says Estevez, an expert on Taino cultures at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, who is based in New York City.

Many scientists and historians continue to believe the Taino were wiped out by disease, slavery, and other brutal consequences of European colonization without passing down any genes to people in the Caribbean today. But a new genetic study of a 1000-year-old skeleton from the Bahamas shows that at least one modern Caribbean population is related to the region’s precontact indigenous people, offering direct molecular evidence against the idea of Taino “extinction.”

“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.”