Social Dimensions of Evolutionary Research: Discovering Native American History in Colonial Southeastern U.S.

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4 Scopus citations


Beginning in the late sixteenth century, a series of Spanish missions was built in coastal Georgia and northern Florida. These missions were designed to convert and "civilize" the indigenous peoples of the region and establish a Spanish presence in the southeastern United States. The colony was not a success, and the missions were destroyed by the English by 1706. The native population fared poorly and suffered massive loss of people due to epidemics and colonial period hardships. In this paper, I discuss microevolutionary analyses of archeological skeletal samples representing the native populations from the region. Analyses document changing patterns of variation and intergroup biological integration through time. Formal evolutionary interpretations are offered, but these are reinterpreted with respect to the social and historical context of the time period. Specifically, patterns of variation suggest a nascent Catholic Indian identity was emergent in Spanish Florida when the missions were destroyed. While this may indicate an evolutionary and historical "dead end" for the indigenous peoples of Florida, further interpretation of the data with respect to the later history of the early Seminole people suggests a continuous biological history can be inferred, linking Spanish period (seventeenth century) and Seminole period (eighteenth century) peoples of Florida within a unified historical narrative. This complex, ephemeral history has repercussions for interpreting evolutionary genetic data within a strict cladistic framework. In addition, this research contributes a humanistic component to the evolutionary sciences with respect to cultural patrimony and oral traditions, in this case, of the Seminole peoples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-231
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution: Education and Outreach
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 21 2011


  • Ethnogenesis
  • Florida mission
  • Microevolution
  • Seminole

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Education


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