The remarkable age of the young Paleolithic woman who died by an ancient lake in Mexico some 13,000 years ago has once again stirred the controversy over the most extraordinary migration in human history.
by Steve Connor (2003)
Scientists in Britain have identified the oldest skeleton ever found on the American continent in a discovery that raises fresh questions about the accepted theory of how the first people arrived in the New World. The skeleton's perfectly preserved skull belonged to a 26-year-old woman who died during the last ice age on the edge of a giant prehistoric lake which once formed around an area now occupied by the sprawling suburbs of Mexico City.
Scientists from Liverpool's John Moores University and Oxford's Research Laboratory of Archaeology have dated the skull to about 13,000 years old, making it 2,000 years older than the previous record for the continent's oldest human remains. However, the most intriguing aspect of the skull is that it is long and narrow and typically Caucasian in appearance, like the heads of white, western Europeans today. Modern-day native Americans, however, have short, wide skulls that are typical of their Mongoloid ancestors who are known to have crossed into America from Asia on an ice-age land bridge that had formed across the Bering Strait.
The extreme age of Peņon woman suggests two scenarios. Either there was a much earlier migration of Caucasian-like people with long, narrow skulls across the Bering Strait and that these people were later replaced by a subsequent migration of Mongoloid people. Alternatively, and more controversially, a group of Stone Age people from Europe made the perilous sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean many thousands of years before Columbus or the Vikings.
Silvia Gonzalez, a Mexican-born archaeologist working at John Moores University and the leader of the research team, accepted yesterday that her discovery lends weight to the highly contentious idea that the first Americans may have actually been Europeans. "At the moment it points to that as being likely. They were definitely not Mongoloid in appearance. They were from somewhere else. As to whether they were European, at this point in time we cannot say 'no'," Dr. Gonzalez said.
The skull and the almost-complete skeleton of Peņon woman was actually unearthed in 1959 and was thought to be no older than about 5,000 years. It formed part of a collection of 27 early humans in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City that had not been accurately dated using the most modern techniques.