About 50 years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492, the population of the Taíno, natives of the Caribbean who once numbered hundreds of thousands, had dropped to fewer than 500 due to enslavement, starvation, and disease.
Population Ravaged By Illness
Puerto Rican historian Ricardo Alegría has said that the culture of these Indians was interrupted by marriage with Africans and Spanish but their extermination is mainly because of sickness. By 1519, one-third of these people's population had died because of smallpox.
It is widely accepted that these indigenous people, later on, became extinct. However, an ancient tooth discovered in a Bahamas cave provided new DNA evidence that these indigenous Americans have living descendants in the Caribbean today.
Genetic Clues From An Ancient Tooth Discovered In A Cave
Hannes Schroeder, from the University of Copenhagen, and colleagues sequenced the genome of the ancient tooth from a woman, who lived at least 500 years before Columbus set foot in the Bahamas.
The results provided insights into the genetic makeup of the Taino and provided clear evidence that their bloodline still lives in people who live in the Caribbean today.
A link has already been suggested by earlier studies involving modern DNA but the new research offered concrete proof of the indigenous ancestry of the people who live in the region today.
The researchers compared the ancient genomes with those of contemporary Puerto Ricans and found that the latter was more closely associated with the ancient Talino than any other known indigenous groups in the Americas.
"It's almost like the ancient Taíno individual they're looking at is the cousin of the ancestors of people from Puerto Rico," said Maria Nieves-Colón, a geneticist from the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Irapuato, Mexico,
Significance For People Who Claim Of Taíno Heritage
The findings are significant for those who have long claimed indigenous Taíno heritage. Jorge Estevez, from the National Museum of the American Indian, said that he grew up hearing stories about his Taíno ancestors at home but the school taught him that these people had died out.
"It shows that the true story is one of assimilation, certainly, but not total extinction," he said.
Estevez added that while the study was a scientific inquiry for the researchers, the findings are liberating and uplifting for the descendants.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.