Scientists may have found new evidence that can shed light on the real origins of the first people in the Americas. The new evidence was gathered from an almost complete skeleton of a girl found in her watery grave.
The ancient skeleton was discovered back in 2007 deep underground in a water-filled chamber referred to as Hoyo Negro, which is Spanish for Black Hole. The chamber was given its name due to the fact that the chamber was pitch black and the divers who found it had to rely on powerful flashlights to illuminate the way. The find was made almost entirely by accident when a team of divers were exploring the water-filled underground caves found to the North of Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula.
"Hoyo Negro could be the most important Paleoindian site discovered in the last decade," says the Hoyo Negro research team. "The well-preserved skeleton of a human rests at the floor of a large chamber inside an underwater cave in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. "
Sometime after the divers discovered Hoyo Negro, the divers along with a number of scientists returned to the chamber for further studies. The team found the floor of the deep chamber was covered with a variety of bones. Many of the animals that died in the chamber were from the late Pleistocene period. The researchers also noticed that most of the bones were from animals which are now considered extinct, including saber-toothed tigers and gomphotheres.
Among all of the animal bones in the chamber floor, the divers found the skull of a human. Upon closer inspection, the researchers noted that the skull belonged to an ancient girl who died in the cave. The divers who found that skeleton named her Naia. The name was derived from a water nymph from Greek Mythos.
"The remains of an adolescent girl were also found in close proximity to the bones of one the gomphotheres," the Hoyo Negro team says. "She was a short and very slim individual who found her resting place as she became lost in the cave and eventually fell into Hoyo Negro."
Naia was around 15 to 16 years of age when she died. Scientists believe that the girl may have been looking for water in the area around 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. Back then, these caves were still dry and she may have stumbled and plummeted to her death, breaking her hip in the process. Later, glaciers melted and the cave was filled with water.
DNA analysis of Naia's remains supports previous theories that the first Americans reached the continent by traversing an ancient land bridge that connected the Americas to Asia. A study on the subject was published in the online journal Nature. This land bridge is called Beringia and it connected North America and Asia from Alaska to Siberia. Many experts believe that humans crossed the bridge from Asia to the Americas around 17,000 years ago.