Migration Routes of the First Caribbean Settlers Revealed
Thu, April 22, 2021

Migration Routes of the First Caribbean Settlers Revealed

The first Caribbean islanders migrated from South America to the north Caribbean about 5,800 years ago, a new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed / Photo by: Mariamichelle via Pixabay

 

The first Caribbean islanders migrated from South America to the north Caribbean about 5,800 years ago, a new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed.

The Journey from Cuba to the northern Caribbean

Matthew F. Napolitano from the Department of Anthropology of the University of Oregon and colleagues explained that the first people of the Caribbean started their journey by first settling in Cuba, Hispaniola, and in Puerto Rico in the group of islands called the Greater Antilles. Then, they headed to the smaller islands in the northern Lesser Antilles before they colonized the islands to the south. This finding is a contradiction to the long-held “stepping-stone” model that many archeologists continue to believe.

Understanding the stepping-stone model of migration

The long-held belief is that the first people of the Caribbean traveled south to north, starting from the Lesser Antilles into the Greater Antilles. Critics of such a model of migration, however, pointed out that the ocean currents and trade winds in the region would have made it difficult for the early settlers to head towards the south Lesser Antilles if they came from Central or South American mainlands. It is also likely that the early seafarers preferred more productive and larger islands of the Greater Antilles so they would have settled in those islands first before migrating southward. People have traditionally settled in areas where there are natural resources, such as food and water.

The long-held belief is that the first people of the Caribbean traveled south to north, starting from the Lesser Antilles into the Greater Antilles / Photo by: gwadarco via Pixabay

 

The use of radiocarbon dating

Because there is more than one Caribbean settlement hypothesis available, Napolitano and the team initiated their four-year project to put these theories to the test. Nearly 2,500 radiocarbons were reevaluated for their study. Radiocarbon dating is a method of determining the age of an object that contains organic material. It is the most frequently used technique in archeology because of its temporal range and wide applicability.

The team said that preserved carbon-based materials, such as bone, shell, and charcoal are usually the main sources of information to determine the duration and onset of cultural events that happened in the past. Yet, building such refined chronologies in several regions is not easy because of a lack of application and evaluation of radiocarbon. The Caribbean region is not an exception to this. They decided to improve the efficacy of the radiocarbon inventories to resolve the issues related to the understanding of the trajectories and timing of the Caribbean colonization.

The radiocarbon dates that the team used for their study were obtained from 585 cultural sites on 55 Caribbean islands. They then assessed the reliability of these dates using the criteria linked to the archeological and geologic contexts of the materials, the lab conditions, and the quality of the samples. Only 10 dates or 0.40% of the total dates met Class 1 criteria, which means most acceptable dates while 1,338 or 53.9% dates met the Class 2 criteria. By subjecting the dates to several statistical analyses, it resulted in a robust and new colonization model.

Scott M. Fitzpatrick from the Museum of Natural and Cultural History of the University of Oregon, who is also a professor in the anthropology department, said that via scientific research platform Futurity that they were able to enhance the confidence of the dates by applying the criteria. They were also able to determine whether said dated materials do relate to human activity.

Because there is more than one Caribbean settlement hypothesis available, Napolitano and the team initiated their four-year project to put these theories to the test. Nearly 2,500 radiocarbons were reevaluated for their study / Photo by: Kestrel via Wikimedia Commons

 

Supporting the southward route hypothesis

Fitzpatrick added that the acceptable dates they used on their analysis represent human occupations on a total of 26 islands and it also offers a reliable model for their initial arrival in the Caribbean. Overall, their study supports the southward route hypothesis. Their study not only has relevance in establishing the routes of the early settlers’ dispersals but likewise gives the public a better understanding on other social and natural variables that would influence their movement on watercraft that possibly discouraged or encouraged travel, such as the oceanographic conditions, natural events, climatic anomalies, and technological capabilities.

Caribbean Population 2020

Demographic data provider World Population Review shares that there are now 43,532,365 people who live in the Caribbean, representing a 0.46% increase from the 42,622,296 number of people in 2015. The Caribbean population history is detailed below: 2010 (41,217,360), 2005 (39,745,829), 2000 (38,102,071), 1995 (36,162,215), and 1990 (34,058,163). The Caribbean population is equivalent to 0.56% of the world’s population and it also ranks third in Latin America and the Caribbean. Based on the recent United Nations estimates, 74.1% of the population in the Caribbean is urban.

The top Caribbean countries where most people live include Haiti (11,402,528 population), Cuba (11,326,616), Dominican Republic (10,847,910), Jamaica (2,961,167), Puerto Rico (2,860,853), and Trinidad and Tobago (1,399,488).

Scientific online publication Our World in Data also shares the number of arrivals (international tourists) in Latin America and the Caribbean in the following years: 2000 (55.65 million), 2002 (51.67 million), 2004 (59.37 million), 2006 (66.25 million), 2008 (71.90 million), 2010 (72.04 million), 2012 (78.54 million), 2014 (89.13 million), and 2016 (102.82 million).

With this recent finding, it can help us better understand human settlement and solve the mystery of human colonization in the Caribbean. This also sheds light on the best approach for the gathering and reporting of radiocarbon dates.