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Oldest human in the Americas discovered in the Yucatan

New genetic evidence supports the hypothesis that the first people in the Americas all came from northeast Asia by crossing a land bridge known as Beringia. When sea levels rose after the last ice age the land bridge disappeared.
New genetic evidence supports the hypothesis that the first people in the Americas all came from northeast Asia by crossing a land bridge known as Beringia. When sea levels rose after the last ice age the land bridge disappeared.
Credit: Julie McMahon Usage Restrictions: Credit required: Julie McMahon.

The oldest most complete skeleton of a modern human being has been discovered in the Yucatan by a team of scientists from the National Geographic Society, the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History, paleontological experts, and divers from several leading universities in the United States. The discovery was reported in the May 16, 2014, edition of the journal Science. DNA that dates back to between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago was part of the find.

The remains were found in Hoyo Negro, a pit that is 130 feet deep within the Sac Actun cave system on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The skeleton is that of a teenage female. Several extinct animals were also found in the pit leading the researchers to conclude that the girl and the animals were trapped and preserved by a natural phenomenon.

The girl's head had a distinct shape that differs from that of modern man in Mexico and is also different from the skull shape of modern Native Americans. DNA was preserved in the skeleton. There was sufficient DNA to perform an analysis that indicates the girl had the same ancestors as all Native Americans. The girl was four feet and ten inches tall. The girl was 15 or 16 years of age when she died. The girl was christened “Naia” by the divers who discovered her. The name means nymph.

This discovery verifies and clarifies several aspects of the movement of modern man into the Americas. The discovery verifies that those peoples who populated the Bering Land Bridge between 26,000 and 18,000 years ago are the ancestors of all Native Americans. The dating of the skeleton verifies the thought that ancient peoples first moved into the Americas along the coast. Movement eastward followed a possible complete migration down the west coast of the Americas. Clovis was definitely not first. The Clovis culture postdated the movement of people along the coast by about 5,000 years.