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Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 01:01:50 -0400
Sender: Taino-L Taino interest forum <TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>
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Subject: TAINO-L Digest - 3 May 1999 to 4 May 1999 (#1999-54)

Date: Mon, 3 May 1999 14:08:59 EDT
From: STaino@aol.com
Subject: #22, Taino DNA evidence

The Taino Forum, #22

UPR study finds high Taino DNA rate: Tests contradict theory of extinction of P.R. natives

By Melba Ferrer, San Juan Star,
Sunday 18 April 1999

The Taino Forum, #22

The front page of April 18 edition of The San Juan Star had this headline, Taino blood said to still flow in P.R. veins. Studies: Taino DNA more prevalent than previously believed.

The article on DNA testing for Indo-American traits in Puerto Rico, ....

...As late as the Spanish census of (Puerto Rico) 1800, there was still a category of indio. This category was eliminated in 1820 census -- the question is what happened to all the people who categorized themselves as such.


If you still favor yucca over French fries and would rather squat than sit, you can thank your Taino genes for that.

Preliminary DNA studies -- the first of their kind -- conducted by the Biology Department at the University of Puerto Rico's Mayaguez campus tend to indicate that TAINO (or at lease Indo-American) mitochondrial DNA is more prevalent among certain populations on the island than previously believed.

And that, if proven, could shift Puerto Rico's history.

It could mean that the Taino population was much greater than believed, says professor Juan Carlos Martinez, who along with forensic anthropologist Edwin Crespo and archeologist Jose Ortiz Aguilu, are looking into the studies.

The studies, part of which was conducted in November of 1998 and another in January, used strands of hair and their roots from volunteers to trace their mitochondrial DNA. The mitochondria, Martinez explained, are tiny organs in each cell. And they carry their own DNA which is transmitted intact only from mother to child, never recombining with the father's DNA.

The professor-student team sought 56 volunteers which specific Indo-American traits, such as straight, black hair and high cheek bones. The volunteers; mothers and female ancestors show these traits as well.

Of the 56 volunteers, a whopping 70 percent or (39 people) showed up with Indo-American DNA.

But the January study was even more surprising as researchers chose random subjects regardless of their traits and features, and without seeking information on their female relatives. They found that out of 38 volunteers, a majority 53 percent came up with Indo American mitochondrial DNA.

So what does it all mean?

Our results suggest that our genetic inheritance of indigenous origin can't be very low and could be even higher than the inheritance from the other two races (Caucasian and Negroid), notes Martinez in an April 9 summary of his study.

While historians believe that the Taino population in Puerto Rico was no larger than 100,000, with a favored average of 20,000, the study, Martinez said, could mean that the island's Taino population was considerably larger, say about 560,000.

And the study could contradict the historical theory that the Taino people in Puerto Rico were wiped out either by violence, exploitation or disease just decades after the Spanish conquest. Other natives were mixed with Spaniards and black slaves, thus producing the Puerto Rican criollo. Any maybe a handful of pure Tainos did surve by fleeing to the thick brush in the island's mountain region (Las Indieras in Maricao, for example). But they were probably too small of a group to make a difference.

The study points to the possibility of many more Tainos, thus explaining the resistant mitochondrial DNA which has withstood 20 generations through five centuries. The high level of indigenous inheritance in Puerto Ricans that our results imply suggest that, instead, they were assimilated (and not exterminated), adds the summary.

Yet that doesn't mean that each and every Puerto Rican can claim Agueybana as an ancestor.

W have to be a bit more careful with this, notes forensic anthropologist Edwin Crespo, who is involved in the study.

There is Indo-American DNA. But we have to determine if it really corresponds to the Tainos or to others, he said.

Throughout Puerto Rico's history, indigenous peoples of other nations (Yucatan and Venezuela) were either brought to or arrived in Puerto Rico. And the mitochondrial DNA content found in the tests could point to them.

Crespo also stresses that people in certain regions may show traces of Indo-American DNA. But what if the tests are done in Loiza, then? he asks.

But in any case, the important thing is that DNA testing is finally making its way into Puerto Rico's history and could someday set the record straight.

We are more interested in the prehistoric population, Crespo says. DNA testing could no doubt cast light on the scant information of pre-Columbian life in Puerto Rico, while, at the same time, give an idea of the genetics behind the current Puerto Rican. This could be the beginning of what could be a great project, concedes Crespo.

Martinez adds that the idea is to seek funding through the federal National Foundation of Science for further DNA studies around the island for a larger project in seeking the genetic makeup of a Boricua.

Yet what does a historian think of any possible change in Puerto Rico's history?

The information is interesting, says historian and anthropologist Ricardo Alegria. There has never been an actual study on the indigenous heritage here, although you can see among people in the Utuado/Adjuntas/Maricao region certain traits that remind us of [the Taino] . . . A number of years ago, I began a study on a trait found in the Mongoloid race, which is also shared by the indigenous peoples: their front teeth. I was surprised to see the frequency with which I found this here, he says.

Yet, admitting that information on the Taino people hasn't been abundant, Alegria notes that current theories and conclusions are, nonetheless, documented on decades of research.

And he has some doubts on how the study may point to a much larger number of Tainos than historically reported. I think the numbers are too high . . . Historical evidence shows that there wasn't a great population of indigenous people . . . As a society, they disappeared early on, says Alegria, adding that by mid- to late-16th century the Taino population was just about gone.

And even later references to Tainos are based on the amount of meztizos and not pure Tainos.

But we do have a Taino heritage, says Alegria. And more than biological culture, I'm interested in that heritage.

Yet, Alegria welcomes any studies that could provide insight into what makes a Puerto Rican tick. This is a very interesting study and I would recommend doing a study on blood types.