In the watery caves of Mexico, a team of researchers found the remains of a young girl dating back 12,000 – 13,000 years ago.
The skull of the 16-year-old girl has shed new light on the origins and ancestral data of the first Americans. Until now there has always been a grey area concerning the ancestors of Native Americans, we know they came across the Bering Land Bridge from Serbia into Alaska, but the difference in body types between the first Americans and their descendants has been a mystery.
The discovery of this young girl, nicknamed Naia has a different biological appearance than that of Native Americans. Her skeleton has the cranial appearance of ancient paleoamericans along with the vital mitochondrial DNA linking to descendants. Naia’s face is narrow with wide-set eyes, a low prominent forehead, flat nose and projecting teeth. Very different to what Native Americans look like today. She also had some physical conditions including teeth issues and osteoporosis – likely from giving birth at a very young age.
The team was led by archaeologist James Chatters, who says that this is the first time they have gotten genetic data from a skeleton with these features.
Native Americans derive from a small group of people who isolated themselves in Beringia and over thousands of years adapted a unique genetic features that have been little known until this discovery, which will no doubt shed new light on these prehistoric people.
“Now we’ve got two specimens, both from a common ancestor that came from Asia, like Hoyo Negro, the Anzick genome shows that Paleoamericans are genetically related to native peoples, so the latter cannot be a replacement population. Their differences have to be a result of evolutionary change. What drove that change, we don’t know.” – James Chatters.
The cave system where the young Naia was found, is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and has been named Hoyo Negro, meaning Black Hole in Spanish. 13,000 years ago this area was dry during the last glacial ice age. It’s evident that Naia died after a fall from quite a height, as is apparent with her pelvis which was broken. Eventually, 10,000 years ago when the ice began to melt, this area became awash with water and the minerals in the H2O provided essential preservation components.
The team removed her skeleton as this area is prone to fossil hunters who remove important data from their position in situ.