Humans settled the Caribbean ~6,000 years ago, with ceramic use and intensified agriculture marking a shift from the Archaic to the Ceramic Age ~2,500 years ago1–3. We report genome-wide data from 174 individuals from The Bahamas, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Curaçao, and Venezuela co-analyzed with published data. Archaic Age Caribbean people derive from a deeply divergent population closest to Central and northern South Americans; contrary to previous work4, we find no support for ancestry contributed by a population related to North Americans. Archaic lineages were >98% replaced by a genetically homogeneous ceramic-using population related to Arawak-speakers from northeast South America who moved through the Lesser Antilles and into the Greater Antilles at least 1,700 years ago, introducing ancestry that is still present. Ancient Caribbean people avoided close kin unions despite limited mate pools reflecting small effective population sizes which we estimate to be a minimum of Ne=500–1500 and a maximum of Ne=1530–8150 on the combined islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola in the dozens of generations before the analyzed individuals lived. Census sizes are unlikely to be more than ten-fold larger than effective population sizes, so previous estimates of hundreds of thousands of people are too large5–6. Confirming a small, interconnected Ceramic Age population7, we detect 19 pairs of cross-island cousins, close relatives ~75 kilometers apart in Hispaniola, and low genetic differentiation across islands. Genetic continuity across transitions in pottery styles reveals that cultural changes during the Ceramic Age were not driven by migration of genetically-differentiated groups from the mainland but instead reflected interactions within an interconnected Caribbean world1,8.

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