1,500-year-old microbes confirm archaeologists' theories of Caribbean cultures

1,500-year-old microbes confirm archaeologists' theories of Caribbean cultures

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The evaluation of bacteria and fungi found in fossilized faeces are providing evidence that supports archaeologists' hypotheses regarding cultures in the Caribbean from more than 1,500 years ago.

Although fossilized faeces have been studied frequently, until now it has never been used as tools for determine ethnicity and distinguish two extinct cultures. Examination of the DNA preserved in the coprolites (fossilized feces) of two ancient indigenous cultures revealed the populations of bacteria and fungi present in each culture, as well as their possible diets.

Diverse indigenous cultures inhabited the greater Antilles a thousand years ago. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have thousands of pre-Columbian indigenous settlements belonging to extinct cultures that migrated to the Caribbean at some point in history.

Archaeological excavations in Vieques, Puerto Rico, unveiled handmade tools and crafts, in addition to fossilized feces, dating from between 200 and 400 AD. The presence of two different styles in the crafts and other clues suggested the possibility that the artifacts belonged to two different cultures.

«One culture excelled in the art of ceramics; in fact, their particular use of red and white paint helped identify them as descendants of the Saladoids, originally from Saladero, Venezuela. On the other hand, the second crop had exquisite art for the elaboration of semi-precious stones into ornaments, some of which represented the Andean condor. This helped archaeologists to identify the Bolivian Andes as possible origins of this hollow culture.”Explains Jessica Rivera-Pérez, from the University of Puerto Rico.

For help confirm archaeological theories, Rivera-Pérez and his colleagues examined the DNA conserved in the fossilized feces, both salty and hollow, and compared the populations of bacteria and fungi found in each. They did not detect large differences between the coprolites of these cultures; But fungi and maize DNA were found in the hollow coprolite, further rekindling the hypothesis that the hollow was originally from the Bolivian Andes.

These studies can provide important evidences regarding the migration of cultures and of the ancestral populations of the Caribbean.

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