A Mexican-U.S. team of scientists and divers discovered the oldest human remains in the Americas, belonging to an adolescent girl dubbed “Naia,” Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute,or INAH, said.
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The more-than-12,000-year-old skeleton was discovered in the Hoyo Negro archaeological site, located inside an underwater cave in the southeastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
Naia is the “most complete and genetically intact” skeleton of such antiquity ever found in the Western Hemisphere, according to the team.
INAH’s Pilar Luna Erreguerena, a pioneer of underwater archaeology, said the analysis of mitochondrial DNA places Naia as the “link that was missing to confirm the connection between the first settlers of the Americas and the indigenous groups living on this continent.”
Genetic studies confirm Naia’s descent from Asians who crossed over from Siberia to Alaska via the land bridge that is today the Bering Strait, Luna said.
Also taking part in the investigation were anthropologist and paleontologist James C. Chatters and archaeologist Dominique Rissolo, both from the United States, who will report on the find in this month’s edition of Science magazine.
The discovery places Mexico in “an outstanding position” with regard to research being done to define the ties between the first settlers of the Americas and today’s indigenous groups, archaeologist Luna said.
Found along with Naia’s skeleton were remains of 26 mammals corresponding to 11 Late Pleistocene species, including a saber-toothed tiger, a ground sloth and a giant tapir.