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13,000-year old teen provides clues to Native American origins

Sediment off Yucatan Peninsula
Sediment off Yucatan Peninsula
NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

The skeleton of a 15 (or 16)-year old woman in an underwater cave off the Yucatan Peninsula is now providing scientists with a look at DNA from some of the “first Americans.”

“She may have been looking for water when she tumbled into the chamber (which was on dry land) some 12,000-13,000 years ago,” stated lead study author James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience (a consulting firm in Bothell, WA).

The 4’ 10” skeleton (named Naia after a Greek water nymph) was discovered accidentally in a deep underground chamber by divers mapping water-filled caves north of the city of Tulum back in 2007. According to one of the divers, Alberto Nava, they found numerous animal bones at the bottom of the 100-foot tall cave (dubbed Hoyo Negro, or black hole), with the girl’s skull found resting upside down on a ledge, “with a perfect set of teeth and dark eye sockets staring back at them.” Despite any differences in her facial features with those of present day Native Americans, scientists found evidence that Naia and her people most likely came from the same gene pool.
were, in fact, significantly related, probably deriving from the same gene pool.
"Naia is a missing link filling in a gap of knowledge we had about the earliest Americans and modern Native Americans," continued Chatters, who previously worked on Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton found in Kennewick, WA in 1996, whose skull did not resemble those of today’s Native Americans in any way.