The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The influence of European contact on health and demography in the Caribbean: the case of El Chorro de Maità, Cuba


Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Thursday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

The Caribbean was among the first regions in the New World to experience contact between indigenous peoples and Europeans, with Columbus landing in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola in AD1492. It is generally considered that early European-Amerindian contact resulted in the decimation of indigenous communities due to a lack of immunity to European diseases. As the indigenous use of the Cuban cemetery site of El Chorro de Maità spans the pre-Columbian and post-European contact period, the osteological analysis of the burial population allows for inferences to be made about the influence of European contact on Amerindian population paleodemography and health. The El Chorro population mortality profile appears more catastrophic than attritional in nature, with a high proportion of young adults (42.8%) and children aged 5-9 years (13.5%), and a relatively low number of mature adults (12%). The mortality profile coupled with a lack of skeletal pathology, aside from a few instances of trauma and DJD, suggests that epidemic disease may have been an influencing factor in the community. Additionally, the osteological data coupled with the analysis of the site’s variable mortuary practices illustrate the dynamic interaction that occurred between Europeans and Amerindians from both a cultural and biological perspective.

This research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) grant 277-62-001 (Communicating Communities).

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