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Isolation and Evolution in Oceanic Islands: the human colonisation of the Canary Islands

Project description

The first settlers on the Canary Islands

Farmers from North Africa were the first settlers on the Canary Islands some 2 000 years ago. They remained isolated until the colonisation of the first Europeans in the 15th Century. The EU-funded IsoCAN project will review the colonisation of the Canary Islands. It will establish a chronology and define the process of adaptation and resilience of the first settlers. Interestingly enough, the project will also determine how the landscape and natural resources were impacted. Overall, the findings will further our understanding about how humans colonise new territories, and what are the cultural and biological adaptations.


The Canary Islands were settled 2,000 years ago by farming populations from North Africa representing the westernmost limits of Eurasian human colonisation until European contact with the Americas. This is a superlative example of colonisation because the first colonists remained isolated until the arrival and colonization of Europeans in the 15th century AD. When Europeans arrived, Canarian populations spoke distinct dialects and did not have the seafaring skills needed to navigate between islands.
The colonisation of the Canary Islands is an example of adaptation and sustainability because people were able to create anthropogenic landscapes capable of supporting increasing human populations on diverse and isolated island ecologies with a low density of food resources. Nevertheless, how first colonisers transformed pristine islands into domestic landscapes to make islands more habitable for humans remains unresolved.
IsoCAN project will explore the first colonisation of the Canary Islands from the beginning of the Common Era to the 15th century AD, which represent the last expansion of the Mediterranean farming package, This project will (1) establish the chronology of the initial colonisation of the Canary Islands; (2) determine the geographic origins and the genetic variability of the human population, domesticates (animals and plants) and parasitic species (insects); (3) define the process of adaptation and resilience of the first settlers; and (4) investigate human impact on landscape and the management of natural resources.
This set of evidence will enable us to investigate two transcendental questions: how do humans colonise new territories, and what are the cultural and biological adaptations? This ambitious project will provide insights about the adaptive mechanisms through which isolated and fragile insular ecosystems were successfully colonised by human societies, focusing on social complexity, subsistence practices and landscape transformation.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 095 372,25
C/ juan de quesada 30
35001 Las palmas de gran canaria

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Canarias Canarias Gran Canaria
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (3)