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Open Access Research article

Interdisciplinary approach to the demography of Jamaica

Michael L Deason1, Antonio Salas2, Simon P Newman3, Vincent A Macaulay4, Errol Y st A Morrison5 and Yannis P Pitsiladis1*

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

2 Unidade de Xenética, Departamento de Anatomía Patolóxica e Ciencias Forenses, and Instituto de Medicina Legal, Facultade de Medicina, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

3 Department of History, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

4 Department of Statistics, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

5 Department of Basic Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:24  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-24

Published: 23 February 2012

Abstract

Background

The trans-Atlantic slave trade dramatically changed the demographic makeup of the New World, with varying regions of the African coast exploited differently over roughly a 400 year period. When compared to the discrete mitochondrial haplotype distribution of historically appropriate source populations, the unique distribution within a specific source population can prove insightful in estimating the contribution of each population. Here, we analyzed the first hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA in a sample from the Caribbean island of Jamaica and compared it to aggregated populations in Africa divided according to historiographically defined segments of the continent's coastline. The results from these admixture procedures were then compared to the wealth of historic knowledge surrounding the disembarkation of Africans on the island.

Results

In line with previous findings, the matriline of Jamaica is almost entirely of West African descent. Results from the admixture analyses suggest modern Jamaicans share a closer affinity with groups from the Gold Coast and Bight of Benin despite high mortality, low fecundity, and waning regional importation. The slaves from the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa were imported in great numbers; however, the results suggest a deficit in expected maternal contribution from those regions.

Conclusions

When considering the demographic pressures imposed by chattel slavery on Jamaica during the slave era, the results seem incongruous. Ethnolinguistic and ethnographic evidence, however, may explain the apparent non-random levels of genetic perseverance. The application of genetics may prove useful in answering difficult demographic questions left by historically voiceless groups.