The study places the Caribbean in the Caribbean, “increasing confidence in Columbus’s cannibalistic claims”

Researchers analyzed the skulls of the early Caribbean inhabitants, using three-dimensional “landmarks” for the face as a genetic indicator to determine how closely groups of people are connected to each other. Credit: Ann Ross / University of North Carolina

Christopher Columbus' tales of the Caribbean include heartbreaking descriptions of violent raiders who abducted women and cannibalistic men – stories dismissed like myths.

But new research suggests Columbus may have been telling the truth.

Using the equivalent of face recognition technology, the researchers analyzed the skulls of the early inhabitants of the Caribbean, identifying relationships between groups of people and refuting long-standing hypotheses about how the islands were first colonized.

One of the amazing discoveries was that the Caribbean, marauders from South America and rumored to be cannibals, invaded Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Bahamas, refuting half a century of assumptions that they never made it further north than Guadeloupe.

“I spent years trying to prove that Columbus was wrong when he was right: there were Caribbean people in the northern Caribbean when he arrived,” said William Keegan, curator of archeology at the Caribbean Museum of Natural History in Florida. “We will have to rethink everything we thought we knew.”

Columbus told how peaceful Arawaks in modern Bahamas were terrorized by robbers, whom he mistakenly called “Kaniba,” the Asian subjects of the Great Khan. His Spanish successors corrected the name on the Caribbean a few decades later, but similar sounding names prompted most archaeologists to write down references to the confusion: how could the Caribbean be in the Bahamas when their closest outpost was nearly 1,000? miles south?

But the skulls show that the presence of the Caribbean in the Caribbean was much more noticeable than previously thought, which confirms the claims of Columbus.

Face to face with the earliest inhabitants of the Caribbean

Previous research has relied on artifacts such as tools and pottery to trace the geographical origin and movement of people across the Caribbean over time. According to Ann Ross, a professor of biological sciences at the University of North Carolina and lead author of the study, the addition of a biological component makes the history of the region clearer.

Ross used three-dimensional “landmarks” for the face, such as the size of the eye socket or the length of the nose, to analyze more than 100 skulls dating from about 800–1542 years AD. These landmarks can act as a genetic indicator to determine how close people are to each other.

According to Ross, the analysis revealed not only three separate groups of Caribbean residents, but also their migration routes, which were “truly amazing”

Looking at ancient faces, it is clear that the earliest settlers of the Caribbean came from Yucatan, moving to Cuba and the Northern Antilles, which confirms the previous hypothesis based on the similarity of stone tools. Arawak carriers from coastal areas of Colombia and Venezuela migrated to Puerto Rico from 800 to 200. BC.

However, the earliest inhabitants of the Bahamas and Hispaniola were not from Cuba, as they usually think, but from the northwestern Amazon – the Caribbean. Around 800 A.D. they advanced north to Hispaniola and Jamaica, and then to the Bahamas, where they were firmly rooted at the time Columbus arrived.

“I have been at a standstill for years because I did not have this Bahamian component,” Ross said. “These remains were so key. This will change the way people and the people of the Caribbean look. ”

For Keegan, the discovery reveals a mystery that has tormented him for years: why ceramics known as Mailakoid appeared in Espanyol in 800 AD, in Jamaica around 900 and in the Bahamas around 1000.

“Why is this ceramic so different from everything we see? It bothered me, ”he said. "It makes sense that Meillacoid ceramics is associated with the Carib expansion."

The sudden appearance of Meillacoid pottery also corresponds to a general rearrangement of people in the Caribbean after a 1000-year period of calm, which is further evidence that “the Caribbean invaders were on the move,” Keegan said.

Raiders of the Lost Arawaks

So, was there any substance in the stories of cannibalism?

Perhaps, Keegan said.

The Arawak and Caribbean were enemies, but they often lived side by side with occasional mixed marriages before blood feud broke out, he said.

“It's almost a bit of a Hatfields and McCoys situation,” Keegan said. “Perhaps there was some kind of cannibalism. If you need to scare your enemies, this is a really good way to do it. ”

According to him, the European idea that the Caribbean were cannibals had a huge impact on the history of the region. Initially, the Spanish monarchy insisted that indigenous peoples receive payment for their work and respect, but changed their position after receiving reports that they refused to accept Christianity and fed on human flesh.

“The Crown said:“ Well, if they behave this way, they can be enslaved, ”said Keegan. "Suddenly, every local in the entire Caribbean became a Caribbean, as far as the colonists were concerned."

Study published in Scientific Reports,

Researchers say Caribbean settlement began in Greater Antilles

Additional Information:
Scientific Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-019-56929-3

The study places the Carib in the Caribbean, which increases confidence in the cannibal regarding Columbus (2020, January 10)
retrieved January 10, 2020

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