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Ancient skeleton found in cenote leaves clues about ancestors

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Scientists are studying the 12,000-year-old remains of a Mayan girl known as Naia. Photo: INAH

The 12,000-year-old remains of a girl known as Naia, recovered from a cenote in Yucatan 10 years ago, still yields new understanding of our ancestors. 

According to a report in Nature, Naia’s remains have undergone new analysis by an international team of researchers, including scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, and the Autonomous University of Yucatán.

Naia suffered from severe and repeated periods of nutritional stress, resulting in tell-tale marks on her bones and teeth, say Archaeologist James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience in Bothell, Wash.

She is thought to have died between the ages of 15 and 17, perhaps because she fell into the cenote where her remains were discovered.

Chatters added that she had well-developed leg muscles, perhaps from walking over wide areas. But she lacked the strong arm muscles associated with work required to grind seeds, work animal skins, and carry heavy loads.

A pitted fragment of pelvic bone indicates that she had gone through labor and childbirth well before her death.

“We get the sense that the lives of the first Americans were wonderful and easy,” Chatters said. “Well, it isn’t necessarily the case.”

The 2007 discovery was significant because the girl’s skeleton was nearly intact. They named her Naia after the Greek water nymph.

Naia, one of the earliest humans ever found in the Americas, has a constellation of genes common among modern Native Americans.

Read more about “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”

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