A scientific reconstruction of one of the oldest sets of human remains found in the Americas appears to support theories that the first people who came to the hemisphere migrated from a broader area than once thought, researchers say.
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History on July 22 released photos of the reconstructed image of a woman who probably lived on Mexico’s Caribbean coast 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. She peeks out of the picture as a short, spry-looking woman with slightly graying hair.
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 government archaeologist Alejandro Terrazas says the picture has now become more complicated, because the reconstruction more resembles people from southeastern Asian areas like Indonesia.
Some outside experts caution that the evidence is not conclusive.
Ripan Malhi, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, said that “using facial reconstructions to assign ancestry to an individual is not as strong as using ancient DNA to assess the ancestry of the individual, because the environment can influence the traits of the face.”
“All of the current genetic evidence points to Northeast Asia as the main source for Native Americans,” Malhi said.
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% 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.
“Recently there has been more serious inquiry into the various origins of migrants, modes of transportation, and dates of when they got here,” Gillespie [Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida] said in an e-mail message. “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.”
Photo of a reconstruction based on the skeletal remains of a woman who lived between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago in Tulum, Mexico.