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News: Research
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A 19th century engraving depicts Spanish exploration in the West Indies. Image Credit: Granger/Rex/Shutterstock/The Guardian.
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by Archaeology Newsroom

New study shows that early Caribbean peoples were not cannibals

Contradicting early colonialist accounts

A team of scientists are using archaeological evidence to defute accounts of Carib people as ferocious and man-eating. The long held belief that the first inhabitants of the Caribbean were exterminated by the Caribs is proven to be wrong after the new study.

Examining the findings from a site in Indian Creek, the team led by Dr Reg Murphy and comprising researchers from Syracuse University, Farmingdale State College and Brooklyn College have had to reassess older narratives originating initially to early colonists. The Indian Creek site has been inhabited by humans in every era until today. Findings from the site vary from Wedgwood and Delftware china, brought by the colonists in the 18th century, to much older clay bowls and tools. Since the land hasn’t been fertile enough for sugar cultivation, no large ploughs have been used for long so it is intact to a great extent, facilitating the work of researchers.

Since the Colonial Era historians have thought that the Arawak people were exterminated by the Caribs, who were consequently displaced by European settlers. The Caribs were described as man-eating and ferocious.

Now the new study aims to reassess these assumptions through analyses of the Caribs diet, which has yielded no evidence whatsoever that Caribs ate humans. The study is much more intensive than older ones, since it has been examining bones, pollen and microflakes, evidence that leads to conclusions about the people, their health and their craftsmanship rather than buildings and cultural remains. Microscopic scratches on tools and residues of food, such as fish and corn, have yielded valuable information for researchers on the diet of the Amerindians.

The study has shown that the Caribs not only were not cannibals but that they mostly consumed shell animals and fish.

NOTES