Online Journal of Anthropology

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In the island chain called the Lesser Antilles, stretching from the Virgin Islands south to Trinidad and Tobago, a team of researchers lead by Theodore Schurr, an anthropology professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts & Sciences, is solving a generations-old mystery: Do indigenous communities still exist in the Caribbean region today?


“We’re really trying to connect the dots and understand the migration, the flow of people in and out of the region,” said Schurr, who has worked in the area since 2012 and on similar genetics projects for more than two decades.


Theodore Schurr of the University of Pennsylvania


Theodore Schurr of the University of Pennsylvania


“Each island seems to have its distinct history.”


Schurr and his team, which includes Jill Gaieski of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, Miguel Vilar, a Penn postdoc at the time of the research and now at the National Geographic Society, and Jada Benn Torres from Notre Dame University, focused their research on DNA samples from 88 participants in the First Peoples Community in Trinidad and the Garifuna people in St. Vincent.


By looking at mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosomes and autosomal markers, three parts of the genome known for containing what Schurr described as “signals” of indigenous ancestry, the researchers eventually detected 42 percent indigenous ancestry from the maternal side, 28 percent from the paternal side.

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