Beans in the Caribbean?

WINNIPEG, MB – UWinnipeg professors Dr. Mirjana Roksandic (anthropology) and Dr. Bill Buhay (geography) partnered with a team of Cuban and Canadian researchers to demonstrate the use of cultivated plants in the Caribbean well before the commonly accepted advancement of agricultural groups in the region at around AD 500. The team, led by Roksandic, dated some of the remains to 1000 BC, indicating that the practice was much older than previously assumed. Their findings were published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Using an unprecedented method which combined inferred past diet information gleaned from dental calculus (teeth plaque) starch grains and bone collagen isotope data, the lead author Chinique de Armas, whose PhD was supervised by Roksandic and Buhay, demonstrates that the indigenous people of Canímar Abajo (Matanzas province, Cuba) consumed and processed common bean, sweet potato and a highly toxic plant zamia that needs special treatment prior to consumption.

The bone collagen isotope data was derived at Buhay’s Isotope Laboratory (UWIL) at UWinnipeg. Starch grains were extracted from dental calculus at the University of Toronto (Mississauga) in collaboration with Dr. Sheehan Bestel and independently verified by a leading specialist from Puerto Rico, Dr. Jaime Pagan Jimenez.

The site of Canimar Abajo has been excavated over the last 10 years by Professor Rodríguez Suarez of the University of Havana, who first started examining the possibility that the early indigenous Cubans used domesticated plants in their diet, and who is also a coauthor on the paper.

“This unequivocal evidence of domestic plant consumption will serve to dispel the notion that indigenous Cubans from that time period (2nd millennium BC) were fisher-gatherers with no knowledge of agriculture and cultivated plants” says Suarez.

According to the team linguist Dr. Ivan Roksandic, “these people have often been called Ciboney”, a name erroneously translated as “cave people.” The notion of highly mobile cave dwellers stems from colonial attitudes towards indigenous groups in the Caribbean, and the new inferred diet information revealed in this study “adds substantially to our understanding of their inherent environmental competence” adds Ivan Roksandic.

“Canimar Abajo is just beginning to produce surprises that challenge the archaeological paradigm for the region” according to another team member, Professor David Smith of the University of Toronto (Mississauga). Mirjana Roksandic adds that, “this is just the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration which is poised to extend this combined methodology of physical (dental calculus starch grains) and chemical (bone collagen isotopes) analysis to other sites in Cuba and the Caribbean.”

The Journal of Archaeological Science is aimed at archaeologists and scientists with particular interests in advancing the development and application of scientific techniques and methodologies to all areas of archaeology. This established monthly journal publishes original research papers and major review articles, of wide archaeological significance.

 MEDIA CONTACT

Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg

P: 204.988.7130, E: n.ibrahim@uwinnipeg.ca

 

2 Comments

  • August A Croes said...

    I must beg your pardon for my ignorance, did not follow this research from the beginning, Interested 2 know what the facts where that made you decide that the people in question are in fact Ciboney. is there an obvious physical anomaly that helps you identify this group or do you base these facts only on DNA extracts? Thk-U AAC

    • Communications said...

      (from Mirjana Roksandic): There is no evidence that they are Ciboney; on the contrary, this is something that we can’t claim and that we cannot even know at this time. “Ciboney” are an archaeological construct stemming from the early European chroniclers’ record of the existence of Taíno and non-Taíno people on the island. By a series of assumptions in the interpretation of the archaeological record, the non-Taíno were equated with Ciboneys who were than further assumed to have been hunter-gatherers. We set out to examine the validity of these assumptions and in this paper we demonstrate that a simplistic division of Cuban pre-contact populations into agriculturalist (after 500AD) and hunter-fisher gatherers (pre 500 AD) is not warranted in Cuban Archaeology. I hope this answers your question.