Naia's 12,000-Year-Old Skeleton Holds Map to Ancient American Genes

Friday, 16 May 2014 07:15 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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A 12,000-year-old skeleton belonging to a girl scientists have named "Naia," was found recently in an underwater cave on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. It's the oldest genetically intact human skeleton ever found in the Americas.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the skeleton's genetic makeup could help settle a long running debate about who settled the New World.

A genetic marker confirmed by multiple independent laboratories shows that the first humans to cross a now-submerged piece of land called Beringia between today's northeast Russia and Alaska are likely related to modern Native Americans.

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"This is one step toward resolving this question," said James Chatters, owner of Applied Paleoscience, who led the research project.

Naia appears to have been 15 years old when she wandered into what was then a dry cave. Because of a break in her pelvic bone, they say she likely fell into a pit while searching in the darkness, and died.

Naia's facial structure likely looked more like a modern African than a modern Native American, which is not unexpected for a skeleton from this era. Because of the looks, many have long speculated that the first Americans have no connection to modern Native Americans.

A genetic signature, called haplogroup D1, shows a shared lineage, however. They likely look different from each other today because of more recent evolution.

The researchers discovered the cave in 2007, littered with saber-tooth tiger bones, giant sloths, and other extinct creatures. Naia was deep in the cave, perfectly presented on a ledge with her skull resting on her arm bone.

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