Skeleton From Cave In Mexico Could Be Oldest Human Remains In Americas

Human skeletal remains found in a cave in Mexico have been found to likely be 13,000 years old. So far, it is the oldest known human remains in the Americas.

Looting In The Yucatan Peninsula

In 2007, the 12,000-year-old remains of a teenage girl were discovered in a cave in the Yucatan Peninsula. Soon after in 2010, divers discovered another set of remains in Chan Hol, an underwater cave in the same area.

The discovery was brought to the researchers' attention through social media, but merely a few weeks later, they discovered that the site had been vandalized and looted. Unfortunately, although evidence shows that the skeleton might have been 80 percent complete and excellently preserved before it was looted, all the easily collectable bones were stolen, leaving only 10 percent of the skeleton on site.

Other isolated fossil finds in the same cave system, though not very near to the skeleton, were those of a megalonychid ground sloth, a white-tailed deer, extant pacas, and spider monkeys.

Inconsistent Carbon Dating Results

According to researchers, this area where the skeletal remains were found was likely a dry area many years prior and possibly accessible on foot until the middle Holocene period. Now, however, the area is submerged in both freshwater and saltwater.

Because of the flooding in Chan Hol cave, researchers found it difficult to conduct accurate carbon dating because the freshwater and saltwater had stripped the bones of any collagen that could have revealed the bones' age.

Fortunately, they were still able to determine its age without using the bones because a part of the pelvic bone was covered in stalagmite that researchers found to be between 11,300 and 13,000 years old. As such, this is also the likely age of the skeleton, making it the oldest known human remains in the area.

Young Man's Death

The positioning of the remaining seemed to show the corpse lying on its back with its head tilted slightly to the right side. Its right leg was fully extended, while the left leg was slightly bent at 20 degrees.

Based on the estimated positioning of the skeletal remains, researchers believe that the young man likely died in the cave and was unintentionally buried there where it stayed for millennia. Still, researchers state that there is no evidence for this hypothesis, as there were no other artifacts to corroborate the interpretation.

Interestingly, the estimated age of the settler when he died in young adulthood aligns with those of other remains found in a similar cave system. This suggests that not only were the caves easily accessible to the early human settlers in the Americas but that they were also likely an important part of their lives.

The results of the research are published in the journal PLOS One.

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