Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

Anthropology, MA

Committee Chair

Browne Ribeiro, Anna

Committee Member

DiBlasi, Philip J.

Committee Member

Agarwal, Sabrina

Author's Keywords

Taino; Puerto Rico; schistosoma mansoni; cinchona


With the increase in resistance to anti-malarials and global warming trends expanding the habitation range of the mosquito vector, research highlighting the biogeographical contexts of infected populations is critical to understanding epidemiological patterns. A bioarchaeological approach to epidemiology can shed light on previous disease patterns and aid in the prediction of future outbreaks of diseases like malaria. Currently, there is no direct evidence of malaria in the Americas prior to European contact; however, skeletal, archaeological, paleoenvironmental, historic, and ethnohistorical evidence strongly suggest the presence of Plasmodium spp. malaria in indigenous Caribbean skeletal remains held in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History’s (YPMNH) Caribbean Collection. Yale’s collection is well preserved and represents indigenous populations inhabiting the Greater and Lesser Antilles from 300 BC-AD 600 and AD 1200-1500. Moreover, some individuals in this collection demonstrate healed or healing cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis lesions on the cranium. One explanation for these anemia-related skeletal markers could be that they are the result of chronic hemolytic anemia, an adaptive response to malaria. Hemozoin, an insoluble biomarker produced by all species of Plasmodium, shows promise in identifying malaria infections in ancient skeletal remains. I utilized Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of flight Mass Spectrometry (MALDI tof MS), Attenuated Total Reflectance- Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR), and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) to identify hemozoin in indigenous Caribbean skeletal remains. The identification of Plasmodium spp. hemozoin crystals in this skeletal collection points to the presence of malaria in the Americas as early as AD 1000. These data will aid in the generation of a more complete epidemiological curve for Plasmodium spp., enhance our understanding of the early spread of malaria, and contribute to biogeographical studies on European contact with indigenous populations.