Canaries’ settlers came long before Europeans

THE Canary Islands today conjure images of holiday-makers, seeking all-year-round sun. But the islands actually have a long, interesting human history, which predates European settlers according to a new DNA study.

The Spanish-owned archipelago, comprising the main islands of Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro, sits off the north-west coast of Africa, between Morocco and Western Sahara.

Long before the Spanish conquest, the slave trade, or the rise of sugar plantations, the first people were already settled on the island.

Previous studies showed that the indigenous people of the Canaries were a mixture of North African, Mediterranean, and sub-Saharan African. But little was known about how they arrived on the islands.

Researchers in the journal PLOS One reveal that the DNA from 50 remains, across 25 sites, dated between 150-1400 CE, indicates the first people to colonise the islands were North African Berbers, arriving around 100 CE, and that they had settled on all seven islands by 1000 CE.

Not only that, but four new lineages, specific to the Canary Islands, were discovered, some only seen before in Central North Africa, which has ramifications for the debate about how the first settlers arrived.

Numerous studies, genetic, anthropological, and archeological, have been made of the islands’ indigenous people to discover more about their origins.

The 15th-century Spanish conquest, and the rather brutal colonisation that followed, changed the genetic make-up of the people so much that it was difficult to ascertain at what point the Mediterranean lineages appeared.

This led to a debate about whether the first people to settle on the Canaries had travelled there of their own volition, or had been left there by ancient Mediterranean sailors.

Researchers found that the distribution of the lineages on each island varied, depending on their distance to the mainland, which suggests multiple migration events.

They also found that the presence of Mediterranean DNA in the ancient remains fitted into the larger pattern of Neolithic human expansion, which can be traced from the Middle East, to Africa via Europe.

This suggested that the Berbers had already mixed with Mediterranean people by the time they colonised the islands.

Both of these together adds weight to the argument the Berbers sailed to the Canaries themselves, explorers in their own right.

Lead author Dr Rosa Fregel, of Stanford University and Universidad de La Laguna, told the New York Times that although their findings do not show, explicitly, how these ancient people reached the Canaries, they provide evidence that the migration was large, and made by people who had the resources to survive on the islands.


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Posted by on Mar 29 2019. Filed under Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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