Taíno genetic legacy in Puerto Rico


[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for this item and related links below; also see previous post How Ancient DNA Can Help Recast Colonial History.] In “Aclaran el rol taíno en la genética,” J. Miguel Santiago Colón (El Nuevo Día) writes about scientific research led by Puerto Rican anthropological geneticist María Nieves Colón, contributing to an understanding of the cultural biodiversity of Puerto Rico.

María Nieves Colón is an anthropological geneticist who uses both ancient DNA and modern genomics tools to examine human population history in the Caribbean and Latin America. She is currently affiliated with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University and she is a Senior Scientist with Claret Bioscience in Santa Cruz, California. 

Here are excerpts from El Nuevo Día:

With the disappearance of the culture of the Taíno Indians as a result of the Spanish colonization of the island, it was considered that the indigenous race was completely extinguished, but an investigation by the Puerto Rican anthropologist María Nieves Colón could prove otherwise. The study presents evidence of the genetic continuity shared by indigenous people born before colonization and modern Puerto Ricans, in addition to identifying traits that were lost with the Taíno race. This difference, according to the analysis, reflects the neutral process of generational losses and the demographic changes brought by the European contact.

The research, carried out for almost a decade, sought to investigate the origin of the population history of the ancient communities on the island, and then examine the relationship between these groups and modern Puerto Rican people.

“The study used the ancient DNA that survives in biological remains, such as skeletons. We consider that surviving DNA to be ‘ancient DNA.’ We examined the DNA through a fairly large sampling of individuals from three archaeological sites on the island, which are Tibes, in Ponce; Punta Candelero, in Humacao; and Paso del Indio, in Vega Baja,” said Nieves Colón.

The scientist began with a question that many archaeologists ask themselves: genetically, do Puerto Ricans have Taíno ancestry? “In Puerto Rico, there has always been the notion that the indigenous peoples died when the Spaniards arrived and that, now, they are in the past. However, many people have stories and traditions of indigenous origin. So, we wanted to examine whether, in addition to having these cultural traditions, there was also a genetic link with these ancient communities,” said the genetic anthropologist.

The Puerto Rican, along with 10 other collaborators from different parts of the world, examined 124 archaeological remains in a slow and comprehensive process. “We sampled 145 individuals and, from those, we managed to access the DNA of 45. This creates a situation in which you have to have a sampling three times larger than what you are going to get,” added the academic. “We were surprised that we managed to get the DNA because, at first, we didn’t know if it was going to work.”

Links with South America

One of the findings of the study highlighted the existence of an indigenous link in Puerto Rico with those who inhabited South America. Genetically, the old settlers are similar to people who now live in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela and the Amazon basin. This, Nieves Colón explained, supports what has been raised in the field of archeology for many years. However, it does not exclude the possibility that there were populations from other parts of the continent and have not yet been registered.

In its official document, the study helps to understand the role of indigenous people in the cultural biodiversity of Puerto Rico and the rest of the countries. [. . .]

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full article, see https://www.elnuevodia.com/ciencia/ciencia/nota/aclaranelroltainoenlagenetica-2521861

Also see:

“DNA test shows Puerto Rican tribe didn’t die …”
CBS News, September 23, 2019

Maria A. Nieves-Colón’s website

Ancient DNA reconstructs the genetic legacies of pre-contact Puerto Rico communities
Article by Maria A. Nieves-Colón et al.

One thought on “Taíno genetic legacy in Puerto Rico

  1. I recently did DNA test, I am 25% Taino, I’ve always knew I was, my dad always told us we were. He said that the stories passed down were that his people went into hiding in mountains and caves. I just wanted to make sure, my own curiosity. Thank you for shining a light and bring this back to existence.

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