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2 September 2010
10,000-year-old skeleton recovered from a Mexican cave

The skeletal remains of a young man found in a flooded cave in 2006 by German cave divers have recently been recovered following three years of in situ study. The remains, nicknamed the Young Man of Chan Hol because of the lack of wear on his teeth and after the cenote (water hole) in which he was found, are some 10,000 years old. It is hoped that they, along with remains of three others also found in Yucatan's caves will reveal new data about the peopling of the Americas.
     Arturo Gonzalez, Director of the Museo del Desierto de Coahuila and coordinator of the Study of Pre Ceramic Men of Yucatan project, who leads the investigation, stated that "Our dating confirmed that the skeletons collected in Quintana Roo belonged to members of Pre Clovis groups and are part of the few human rests found from the American Terminal Pleistocene, with physical features similar to those of people from Central and South Asia, suggesting there were several migrations to our continent." Unlike most remains of this age, from which often only the skull or jawbone is found, some 60% of the skeleton was collected.
     The investigations and recovery operation have not been easy since the remains were located in a flooded and stalagmite-filled cave some 542 metres long and 8m deep that can only be reached via dark, submerged and labyrinthine caves accessed from the Chan Hol cenote. Three years of in situ studies aimed at eventual recovery of the skeleton required more than fifty dives to record the remains in context with photographs and video. The bones were removed in plastic bags immersed in cave water in order to protect them from changes in temperature and acidity. A stalagmite that had fallen onto the left humerus was also removed since it provides important dating information - the stalagmites do not form in flooded caves.
     The remains of all four Yucatan cave bodies found so far, dating between 10 and 14,000 years old, seem to indicate a funerary use of caves since the bodies appear to have been deliberately arranged. Alejandro Terrazes and Martha Benavente from the Institute of Anthropological Investigations of the National University of Mexico (UNAM) reported that the Young Man of Chan Hol's legs were flexed to the left and the arms were extended to both sides of the body, a position they regard as unique. Stone tools, hearths and the remains of extinct animals suggest that caves were used as refuges with inhabitants drinking the water that filtered down into them. During the ice age, Gonzalez says, Yucatan was likely a desert pasture land with a sea level some 150 metres lower than today, which would have allowed people to walk through them.

Sources: Today.az (25 August 2010), Art Daily (26 August 2010)

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