London, Nov 25 : New evidence has suggested that the earliest settlers in the Caribbean preferred to live on smaller islands, which challenges the assumption that large islands are more important than small ones in the history of human expansion and settlement.
According to a report in The Times, archaeologists had believed that since the settlement of the Caribbean chain, from Trinidad northwards and then westwards to Cuba, had taken place from the South American mainland, the larger islands would have been preferred because they were more like the continent that the voyagers had left.
The land mass of bigger islands could support a more diverse range of habitats and greater numbers of animal species for humans to subsist on. In addition, the focus of long-term evolutionary patterns has favored large islands.
"We've written history based on the bigger islands, yet not only are we now seeing people earlier on smaller islands, we're seeing them move in to territories where we didn't expect them to at the time that they arrived," according to Professor William Keegan and his colleagues, who conducted the research.
Small islands had coastlines rich with fish, and the absence of dense woodlands made them more suited to farming and hunting small prey such as iguanas, tortoises and hutias, a cat-sized rodent.
"In the short term, small islands often are superior to larger islands, and for a variety of reasons, they were actually people's first choice," the investigators said.
"They had better wind flow, fewer mosquitoes and more plentiful marine resources. With sufficient water and a relatively small amount of land to grow certain kinds of crops, they had everything one would need," they added.
As an example, all of the small islands along the windward east coast of St Lucia have substantial ceramic artefacts - evidence of settlement - despite being less than one kilometer long.
Pottery shows that humans often left large islands for small ones, probably initially to take advantage of the abundant marine resources along the coastline.
Shards recovered from the smaller Turks and Caicos islands, for example, were found to have come from Haiti.
"Travelling to the Turks and Caicos gave these people an opportunity to get sources of food that weren't locally available to them," according to the team.
"Such human migration patterns made good economic sense. It was probably easier to sail to other islands than traverse from one end of an island to the other through the overgrown vegetation of tropical woodlands," the researchers concluded.