A team of global scientists have discovered a skeleton, which is believed to be one of the oldest human skeletons found in North America. The research was led by Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and Applied Paleoscience.
The skeletal body was found in an underwater Yucatán Peninsula cave and belonged to a teenager named 'Naia' died after falling in to a large pit called Hoyo Nego that meant "Black Hole" in Spanish.
"The preservation of all the bones in this deep water-filled cave is amazing - the bones are beautifully laid out. The girl's skeleton is exceptionally complete because of the environment in which she died - she ended up in the right water and in a quiet place without any soil. Her pristine preservation enabled our team to extract enough DNA to determine her shared genetic code with modern Native Americans," said Patricia Beddows, a cave-diving researcher from Northwestern University in a research paper.
The skeleton is estimated to be 12,000 to 13,000 years old and that Naia lived in the late Pleistocene or last ice age period, suggested researchers. Naia measured 4 feet and 10 inch tall. Experts estimated that she was in her 15 or 16 years of age, based on the development of her teeth.
The human skeleton was found 130 feet below the sea level with an intact cranium and preserved DNA. Along with the skeleton, variety of extinct animals were found including a gomphothere, relative of the mastodon and an elephant-like creature.
In order to find the exact age of the skeleton, the team examined tooth enamel and calcite deposits found on the bones using uranium-thorium method. Similar methodology was used to date the remains of the other skeletons found near the human skeleton.
Naia's age was further supported by facts of rising sea levels, which were about 360ft (120m) lower during the last ice age than today.
"Hoyo Negro is a very complex site. By understanding the formation of the shallow caves and the shaft into which the girl fell, we know that the girl and the animals visited a site that looks almost like it does today, except that the water level was down in the bottom of the shaft." said Beddows.
"These discoveries are extremely significant. Not only do they shed light on the origins of modern Americans, they clearly demonstrate the paleontological potential of the Yucatán Peninsula and the importance of conserving Mexico's unique heritage." said Pilar Luna, INAH's director of underwater archaeology.