This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Who Are Those Brazilians, Anyways?

It is generally accepted that the indigenous population of the Americas arrived 15-20 thousand years ago via the Bering Strait land bridge. But a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and reported in Nature News, suggests that at least one group in Brazil may have a more varied background.
One broad group of these Palaeoamericans — the Botocudo people, who lived in inland regions of southeastern Brazil — stands out, having skull shapes that were intermediate between those of other Palaeoamericans and a presumed ancestral population in eastern Asia.
Now, a genetic analysis sheds light on the possible heritage of the Botocudo. Pena and his colleagues studied short stretches of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in samples drilled from teeth in 14 Botocudo skulls kept in a museum collection in Rio de Janeiro. By analysing material from inside the teeth, the team minimized the possibility of contamination with DNA from the numerous people who have probably handled the skulls since they arrived at the museum in the late 1800s.
The mtDNA from 12 of the skulls matched a well-known Palaeoamerican haplogroup. But mtDNA from two of the skulls included a haplogroup commonly found in Polynesia, Easter Island and other Pacific island archipelagos...
It seems unlikely that Polynesians ever crossed first the ocean and then the Andes to get to Brazil, so a more likely explanation put forth by the researchers is that this group of people may have provided refuge for Polynesian slaves brought to Brazil in the 19th century. I admit that I was not previously aware of this tragic piece of history about the enslavement of Polynesians, but a Google search quickly brought up a lot of links, including an horrific story from the New York Times in 1871. As a species, we have a lot to answer for, I'm afraid.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Prof Weeks,

    I ran across this on Russia:

    I don't get it. He says that the demographic contraction is an advantage, and also says that Russia is losing about a million working-age people per year. I don't understand how he can make both of those statements.