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The population history of the Caribbean: perspectives from ancient and modern DNA analysis

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Although the Caribbean has been continuously inhabited for the last 7,000 years, European contact in the last 500 years dramatically reshaped the cultural and genetic makeup of island populations. Several recent studies have explored the genetic diversity of Caribbean Latinos

Although the Caribbean has been continuously inhabited for the last 7,000 years, European contact in the last 500 years dramatically reshaped the cultural and genetic makeup of island populations. Several recent studies have explored the genetic diversity of Caribbean Latinos and have characterized Native American variation present within their genomes. However, the difficulty of obtaining ancient DNA from pre-contact populations and the underrepresentation of non-Latino Caribbean islanders in current research have prevented a complete understanding of genetic variation over time and space in the Caribbean basin. This dissertation uses two approaches to characterize the role of migration and admixture in the demographic history of Caribbean islanders. First, autosomal variants were genotyped in a sample of 55 Afro-Caribbeans from five islands in the Lesser Antilles: Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and St. Vincent. These data were used to characterize genetic structure, ancestry and signatures of selection in these populations. The results demonstrate a complex pattern of admixture since European contact, including a strong signature of sex-biased mating and inputs from at least five continental populations to the autosomal ancestry of Afro-Caribbean peoples. Second, ancient mitochondrial and nuclear DNA were obtained from 60 skeletal remains, dated between A.D. 500–1300, from three archaeological sites in Puerto Rico: Paso del Indio, Punta Candelero and Tibes. The ancient data were used to reassesses existing models for the peopling of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and to examine the extent of genetic continuity between ancient and modern populations. Project findings support a largely South American origin for Ceramic Age Caribbean populations and identify some genetic continuity between pre and post contact islanders. The above study was aided by development and testing of extraction methods optimized for recovery of ancient DNA from tropical contexts. Overall, project findings characterize how ancient indigenous groups, European colonial regimes, the African Slave Trade and modern labor movements have shaped the genomic diversity of Caribbean islanders. In addition to its anthropological and historical importance, such knowledge is also essential for informing the identification of medically relevant genetic variation in these populations.

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2017

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Population structure and Frankish ethnogenesis (AD 400-900)

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The transition from Late Antiquity to Early Medieval Europe (ca. AD 400-900) is often characterized as a period of ethnogenesis for a number of peoples, such as the Franks. Arising during protracted contact with the Roman Empire, the Franks would

The transition from Late Antiquity to Early Medieval Europe (ca. AD 400-900) is often characterized as a period of ethnogenesis for a number of peoples, such as the Franks. Arising during protracted contact with the Roman Empire, the Franks would eventually form an enduring kingdom in Western Europe. However, there is little consensus about the processes by which they formed an ethnic group. This study takes a fresh look at the question of Frankish ethnogenesis by employing a number of theoretical and methodological subdisciplines, including population genetics and ethnogenetic theory. The goals of this work were 1) to validate the continued use of biological data in questions of historical and archaeological significance; and 2) to elucidate how Frankish population structure changed over time.

Toward this end, measurements from the human dentition and crania were subjected to rigorous analytical techniques and interpreted within a theoretical framework of ethnogenetic life cycles. Results validate existing interpretations of intra-regional biological continuity over time. However, they also reveal that 1) there are clear biological and geographical differences between communities, and 2) there are hints of diachronic shifts, whereby some communities became more similar to each other over time. These conclusions complement current ethnohistoric work arguing for the increasing struggle of the Frankish kingdom to unify itself when confronted by strong regionally-based politics.

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2015