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New records for prehistoric introduction of Neotropical mammals to the West Indies: evidence from Carriacou, Lesser Antilles

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Aim  This paper investigates the prehistoric introduction of five mammalian taxa to Carriacou (Lesser Antilles) and refines the known anthropogenic ranges for these fauna in the pre‐Columbian West Indies. The importance of such records for understanding the region’s historical biogeography and ecology is considered.

Location  Carriacou Island, Grenada (12°28′ N, 61°26′ W).

Methods  Zooarchaeological assemblages from Carriacou’s earliest documented prehistoric sites, Grand Bay and Sabazan, were analysed, and exotic taxa were identified and quantified. The timing of introductions was established based on multiple radiocarbon assays, including three new accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) direct dates obtained on the bone of exotic taxa. Source species and location(s) are considered and compared with known prehistoric records for the Caribbean to synthesize anthropogenic distributions for the pre‐Columbian period. The contexts of the zooarchaeological remains are evaluated to better understand the nature and purpose of introductions.

Results  Zooarchaeological investigation on Carriacou reveals the occurrence of multiple mammal introductions from South American between c. ad 700 and ad 1400. This paper presents the first records for guinea pig (Cavia sp.), armadillo (Dasypus sp.), peccary (Tayassu/Pecari sp.), opossum (Didelphis sp.) and agouti (Dasyprocta sp.) from the island. Human‐mediated transport of these taxa is indicated by their absence from the record prior to human settlement of Carriacou. Several translocated species are either rare or entirely unknown for the region, and overall West Indian distributions are temporally and spatially discontinuous. Archaeological contexts indicate that mammalian introductions arose from human subsistence needs, but other social factors may have shaped the dispersal of these fauna.

Main conclusions  The taxonomic combination and richness of Carriacou’s introduced fauna are unusual within the region. Importantly, the new records significantly improve the known pre‐Columbian geographic range for peccary, guinea pig and armadillo. Integrated with regional records, these data augment our understanding of the Caribbean’s historical biogeography, and have the potential to improve our understanding of human mobility and anthropogenic environmental impacts in the West Indies prior to the arrival of Europeans.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA 2: Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA 3: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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