Caribbean settlement began in Greater Antilles, say University of Oregon researchers

December 18, 2019

EUGENE, Ore. - Dec. 18, 2019 - A fresh, comprehensive look at archaeological data suggests that seafaring South Americans settled first on the large northernmost islands of the Greater Antilles rather than gradually moving northward from the much closer, smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles.

That pattern of movement emerged as an eight-member University of Oregon team reevaluated 2,500 radiocarbon results from cultural sites on 55 islands. Migrations occurred in two waves, the first beginning 5,800 years ago and the second 2,500 years ago, the team reported Dec. 18 in the Science Advances.

Caribbean colonization has been little understood, said Matthew Napolitano, the study's lead author and a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology.

"This scenario contradicts a competing stepping-stone model that many archaeologists still subscribe to, which asserts a south-to-north settlement beginning in the Lesser Antilles," he said.

Based on the team's examination, the first Caribbean islanders went directly from South America to the northern Caribbean, initially settling on the large islands that became Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.

These islands likely offered productive lands and resources that would have been attractive to early settlers. Early colonization involved the movement across hundreds of miles of open seas, likely in single-hulled canoes.

The new study, done over a four-year period, is the culmination of a graduate student project supervised by Scott Fitzpatrick, associate director of the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History and professor in the Department of Anthropology. The work was designed to test the stepping-stone model.

In their reexamination, the researchers assessed the reliability of radiocarbon dating at each site, using strict criteria related to the geologic and archaeological contexts of the dated material, the quality of the samples and the lab conditions under which the materials were analyzed. Slightly more than half of the dates passed muster, despite more than 50 years of scholarship in the region.

The dates were then subjected to rigorous statistical analyses, resulting in a new and exceptionally robust colonization model.

"By carefully applying these criteria, we were able to improve confidence about the reported dates, as well as whether the dated materials actually relate to human activity," said Fitzpatrick, an expert in island and coastal archaeology whose research focuses on the Caribbean and Pacific. "Our analysis of the resulting acceptable dates, which represent human occupations on 26 islands, provides the first reliable model for initial arrival in the region."

The study has also resulted in the largest publicly accessible database of radiocarbon dates for the region.
Co-authors with Napolitano and Fitzpatrick were Robert J. DiNapoli, Jessica H. Stone, Maureece J. Levin, Nicholas P. Jew, Brian G. Lane and John T. O'Connor. Levin is now at Stanford University, and Jew is at California State University.

Sources: Matthew Napolitano, doctoral student, Department of Anthropology, 541-346-5109,, and Scott Fitzpatrick, associate director, Museum of Natural and Cultural History, 541-346-9392,

Note: The UO is equipped with an on-campus television studio with a point-of-origin Vyvx connection, which provides broadcast-quality video to networks worldwide via fiber optic network. There also is video access to satellite uplink and audio access to an ISDN codec for broadcast-quality radio interviews.


About Matthew Napolitano:

About Scott Fitzpatrick:

Museum of Natural and Cultural History:

Department of Anthropology:

University of Oregon

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to