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12 September 2004
Divers find ancient skeleton in Mexico

Divers making probes through underwater caves near the Caribbean coast have discovered what appears to be one of oldest human skeletons in the Americas, archaeologists announced at the "Early Man in America" seminar. Arturo Gonzalez said his team from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History discovered at least three skeletons in caves along the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in 2001 and 2002. Photos showed two remarkably well preserved.
     Gonzalez said the bones must date from before the time that waters gradually seeped through the caves 8,000 to 9,000 years ago as Ice Age glaciers melted and sea level rose by about 400 feet worldwide. Tests on charcoal found beside one female skeleton would place it at least 10,000 years ago. An expert at the University of California, Riverside, dated it as 11,670 radiocarbon years old which would translate to well over 13,000 calendar years. If confirmed, "that would be the oldest" radio carbon date in the Americas obtained from a human bone, said archaeology textbook author Stuart Fiedel.
     Larry Murphy, chief of the Submerged Resources Center for the U.S. National Park Service, said that the Mexican exploration was "one of the first systematic studies of human materials associated with a submarine cave." The discovery helps prove that humans inhabited the Yucatan at least 5,000 years before the famed Maya culture began building monuments at sites such as nearby Tulum. Gonzalez said the skeleton did not appear to be Mayan, but with no tools yet found, almost nothing is known of those first inhabitants.
     Meanwhile, John Johnson of the University of California, Santa Barbara, said an elaborate restudy of a woman's femur found on Santa Rosa Island in California's Channel Islands established a calendar-year age of 13,200 to 13,500 years. It had been calculated at about 1,000 years less when found in 1959. Both discoveries would be significantly older than the skeleton known Kennewick Man 9,300-year-old paleoindian remains found in 1996.
     Until now, the Americas have produced only 25 bones or skeletons dated as more than 8,000 years old, said Silvia Gonzalez of John Moores University in Liverpool, England. But she told the conference that she would soon publish a paper establishing that humans occupied a site near Puebla east of Mexico City 21,000 to 28,000 years ago.

Sources: Associated Press, Yahoo! News (8 September 2004)

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