Genomic insights into the early peopling of the Caribbean

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Science  24 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6502, pp. 456-460
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba8697

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A complex dispersal into the Caribbean

The settlement of the Caribbean and genetic relationships among pre-European Caribbean people remain a mystery. After examining 93 ancient genomes dating to a range from about 3200 to 400 years ago, Nägele et al. suggest that at least three separate colonization events, including a previously unknown wave, were connected to radiation events in North America. The two more ancient lineages coexisted in Cuba but were fully separate genetically, with later movement into the region from a third group from South America. The study not only informs on the settlement of the Caribbean but also lends insights into the broader-scale intercontinental radiation of humans across the American landscape, including across substantial water boundaries.

Science, this issue p. 456


The Caribbean was one of the last regions of the Americas to be settled by humans, but where they came from and how and when they reached the islands remain unclear. We generated genome-wide data for 93 ancient Caribbean islanders dating between 3200 and 400 calibrated years before the present and found evidence of at least three separate dispersals into the region, including two early dispersals into the Western Caribbean, one of which seems connected to radiation events in North America. This was followed by a later expansion from South America. We also detected genetic differences between the early settlers and the newcomers from South America, with almost no evidence of admixture. Our results add to our understanding of the initial peopling of the Caribbean and the movements of Archaic Age peoples in the Americas.

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