Taino Heritage in Puerto Rico

The Taino, the original people of Puerto Rico, were once thought to be extinct. Recent DNA research has found that Taino DNA can be found among modern Puerto Ricans, confirming the oral history claims of  many people from the Island. The Atlantic has a new report updating the earlier discoveries.

Maria Nieves-Colón of Arizona University has spent a decade studying DNA from ancient human remains found in Puerto Rico. Since DNA degrades quickly in the tropics, it is harder to find this information in the Caribbean than in, for example, the Southwestern United States. Nonetheless, Nieves-Colon and her colleagues have been able to decode the DNA of 45 individuals from before European contact with Puerto Rico. Their work confirms the connection between the Taino of Puerto Rico and ancient people in South America.

Several of the genetic patterns they found can also be seen among modern Puerto Ricans. Other research has found that Taino heritage is found most widely in Puerto Rico and not at all in former French and British colonies in the Caribbean.

The video below shows a modern Puerto Rican woman sharing her results from an online DNA test kit. She found that she had primarily European, Native American, and African heritage, with some surprises. A lack of strong DNA data means that Native American heritage often cannot be confidently identified to any specific tribe or geographic location. This individual assumes her Native American heritage is Taino. The new discoveries being made will allow future interested individuals to be certain.

Connections between the modern and indigenous people of Puerto Rico are not really new information. A 2003 study funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation concluded that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans tested showed evidence of Native American mitochondrial DNA. However, the widespread belief that the Taino disappeared from Puerto Rico can still be found. The federal government does not recognize the Taino as a Native American tribal group.

As more evidence of modern connections with the Taino comes to light, this circumstance may change. In the meantime, just as many U.S. states take pride in their Native American heritage, Puerto Rico can do the same — now, and as a state in the future.

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