A 12,000-year-old female skull found in the Mexican Caribbean could be the oldest human remains ever unearthed in the Americas, Mexico’s top public university announced Thursday. The skull was excavated inside an underground cave along the coast of Tulum, in Mexico’s eastern state of Quintana Roo, and could date back to between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, according to Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM).
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The reconstruction of the skull to determine the sex, age and other characteristics was done by the Paris-based Atelier Daynes, which specializes in reconstructing hominids from bone remnants, lead researcher Alejandro Terrazas Mata of UNAM’s Anthropological Research Institute (IIA)said in a press release.
The University of Heidelberg, Germany, was also involved in the discovery, which could shed light on the early settlement of the Americas.
Researchers said the remains appear to belong to none of the known indigenous groups in the Americas, “in part because the skull is not very similar to those of today’s indigenous groups,” said Mata.
The prevalent theory about the continent’s early settlers holds that a group of Asiatic people migrated across the Bering Strait some 15,000 years ago. Known as Paleoamericans, their craniofacial features share common ancestry with peoples from south Asia or the Pacific Rim.
Another migration of a different group who became the ancestor of the continent’s Amerindians took place 9,000 years ago.
Mata said he couldn’t say whether the skull found belonged to an ancestor of the Amerindians or not.
“It has to be substantiated and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.