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  • Science!    May 15 
DNA from 12,000-year-old skull sheds light on the first Americans
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Thinkstock

For more than 12,000 years, the remains of a teenager have been hidden in an underwater cave in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists believe that the girl was 14 or 15 when she fell into the chamber, and as the Ice Age ended and glaciers began to melt, her final resting place filled with water.

The divers who found the remains in 2007 named her Naia, the Los Angeles Times reports, and through DNA research scientists have discovered that while she does not resemble modern Native Americans (her forehead was very high and her cheeks narrow), her mitochondrial DNA (which is only passed on by the mother) shows she is related to 11 percent of living American Indians.

As experts conduct more DNA research, they are finding results suggesting that thousands of years ago, people came to North and South America from a land scientists call Beringia, situated between Siberia and Alaska. The people fled as glaciers melted and sea levels began to rise. In their new land, these Paleoamericans gradually began to evolve features now associated with Native Americans.

"For years archeologists have been debating the trans-Atlantic thing and really it's been an enormous distraction," paleoarchaeologist John Hoffecker, who did not participate in the study, told the Times. "This helps us focus on Beringia, which is what we should have been doing all along." The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.

- - Catherine Garcia
 
 
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