01 August 2010

An ancestor of the Americans

A BBC series that became essential viewing in the last gasps of the previous millennium and the first few years of the current one was Meet the Ancestors. Anything that deals with reconstructing faces and bodies from bones will always grab my interest.

The Seattle Times and numerous other sources reported on a fascinating reconstruction of one of the oldest sets of human remains found in the Americas appears. The reconstruction appears to support theories that the first people who came to the hemisphere migrated from a broader area than once thought.

Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History recently released photos of the reconstructed image of a woman who probably lived on Mexico's Caribbean coast 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The female is known as "La Mujer de las Palmas," or "The Woman of the Palms," after the sinkhole cave near the Caribbean resort of Tulum where her remains were found by divers and recovered in 2002. Because rising water levels flooded the cave where she died or was laid to rest, her skeleton was about 90 percent intact. Archaeologists and physical anthropologists calculated she was between 44 and 50 years old when she died, was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 128 pounds.

Anthropologists had long believed humans migrated to the Americas in a relatively short period from a limited area in northeast Asia across a temporary land corridor that opened across the Bering Strait during an ice age. But archaeologist Alejandro Terrazas says the picture now has become more complicated, because the reconstruction more resembles people from south-eastern Asian areas such as Indonesia.

"History isn't that simple," Terrazas said. "This indicates that the Americas were populated by several migratory movements, not just one or two waves from northern Asia across the
Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, noted that while the Bering land-bridge theory still has a lot of support, "the situation is messier than the straightforward scenario ... of big-game hunters chasing woolly mammoths over the exposed 'Bering bridge' to Alaska."

"Recently there has been more serious inquiry into the various origins of migrants, modes of transportation, and dates of when they got here," Gillespie said. "Dates for peopling of the Americas have been pushed way back, and with the finding of very early skeletal remains, the genetic/skeletal linkages to peoples of northeast Asia has become more cloudy."

But Gillespie cautioned against comparing a reconstructed face from 10,000 years ago to modern populations in places such as Indonesia, which also have probably changed over 10 millennia."You have to find skeletons of the same time period in Asia, or use genetic reconstructions, to make a strong connection, and cannot rely on modern populations," she wrote. "Do we have any empirical data on what Southeast Asian women looked like ... 10,000 years ago?"

Fascinating stuff! While Terrazas is going to have to come up with a lot more evidence than just facial features to prove his hypothesis it would not surprise me if it were subsequently proved that the population of the Americas was a lot more complicated than thought...

Another post that stems from Jams O’Donnell’s almost childlike wonder at the world we live in!



I always find the topic of lost civilizations to be mesmerizing.

There's an entire city just off the coast of Cuba and so it begs the question if this lady didn't reside in one of the unknown civilizations lost to sudden destruction.

jams o donnell said...

It would be a hard one to prove EWBL.. Oh long time no see!

susan said...

It never suited the Europeans who 'discovered' the Americas to give much credence to the belief that it was a culturally rich and diverse land when they arrived.

jams o donnell said...

That's true Susan. the founding fathers were hardly strong on multiculturism...