Early North Americans may have been more diverse than previously suspected. Foto: Ernesto Contreras Ruiz. INAH.


***Specialists in Physical Anthropology and Paleoanthropology analyzed the affinities in the cranial forms of four human skulls, dated at the Pleistocene and the Early Holocene. The skeletons were retrived from submerged contexts in the great subterraneous systems of caves in Quintana Roo, México.


*** Two of the skulls show affinities with artic populations of North America and Greenland. Another one is similar to settlers of South America and the fourth one to European populations.



A study of the cranial morphology in four of the nine human skeletons, preserved in the submerged caves at Tulum, suggest that the earliest populations of North America had a high level of morphological diversification. The study “Morphological variation of the early human remains from Quintana Roo, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico: Contributions to the discussions about the settlement of the Americas”, was published in January 29, at Plus One. According to the paleo-anthropologist Dr. Alejandro Terrazas Mata, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the underwater archaeologist Carmen Rojas Sandoval, of the Antropology of History National Institute (INAH), the early inhabitants that arrived to the coast of Quintana Roo, 13,000 years ago, came with a high biological diversification in their own population. This diversification reduced when the settlers dispersed south of the continent.


Previous studies in South America populations showed associations with modern Australo-Melanesian populations and African groups too. The ancient groups of South America do not show a high diversity intra population.


The morphological affinities of the individuals of Quintana Roo resulted from their comparative analysis with other 18 samples. This database has been used in previous studies of the morphological affinities, in the samples from Lagoa Santa, Brazil (the biggest collection of human skulls from the Early Holocene in America), and represents one of the biggest database for 3D reference of cranial facial points.


The skull named “Naharon” seems to be closed related to the artic series of North America (Alaska and Greenland), this means robust populations, well adapted to cold environments and very different to the Native Americans’.  Naharon was an adult woman, who died at the age of 25 or 30 years old and lived in Tulum 13,499 years ago (calibrated date, C14-AMS). Her skeleton was at 22 meters deep, in the subsystem of Naranjal cave, at 365 meters to the closest entrance, in cenote Cristal. Back in the 1990´s cenote Cristal was known as Naharon.


The skull of the man called “Pit 1” has a morphology of the cranial vault very different from the other three skulls of Quintana Roo, analyzed in the study; his strongest affinities are closer to European populations and he does not have affinities with early or late Americans. He died as a young adult, 13,295 years ago and his body arrived to the cenote Pit, (an English word that means “well”) at 45 meters deep.


The characteristics of the skull “Las Palmas” seems to be highly related to the Paleoamerican series, with a high probability of been part of the population of Lagoa Santa, in Brazil and, in minor proportions to Chubut, Patagonia, or Japan. Las Palmas was an adult woman, between 44 and 50 years, who lived in Tulum 12,000 years ago. Her skeleton was in the subsystem of Naranjal, on a natural chamber, 24 meters deep.


“Muknal” has the strongest atypical value of all the individuals of Quintana Roo. He does not present a clear pattern of morphological affinities and is more close to the artic populations of North America. Died between his 40 or 45 years old, he lived in the region 10,290 years before the present. The skeleton was at the cave of Jailhouse, at 210 meters to the closest entrance, and 33 meters deep.


The recent article remarks that the study of the human arrival to America and their dispersion is one of the most debated topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. There are hundreds of published articles in the last decades were the origins of the native populations’ without no consensus about their biological genesis nor their migrations.


The studies of the biological diversity of the first human settlers in America include indirect techniques like the analysis of cranial facial evidence, as well as linguistic and archaeological analysis, or direct techniques like the study of DNA, between modern groups of Native Americans and ancient skeletons.


In the last decade, the studies defended diverse models of migration to America: a single early migration; two early and discrete migrations; 3 moments of dispersion in the Holocene, the continuum flowing of genes with Asia in the Holocene and different combination of these variables.


The studies also suggest different models for the human dispersion after the initial process of settling, but without a precise image of the biological diversity in America.


The article recently published seeks to contribute to the debate, exploring the cranial morphological affinities in four individuals from the nine specimens know for Quintana Roo caves. Their unexpected level of high morphological diversification, compared to the South American populations, marks an interesting counterpoint to previous questions, and has important implications for the comprehension of the early migrations process in the continent.


The study was made with the contributions of Mark Hubbe, Alejandro Terrazas Mata, Brianne Herrera, Martha E. Benavente Sanvicente, Arturo González, Carmen Rojas Sandoval, Jerónimo Avilés Olguín, Eugenio Acevez Núñez and Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel.


More details about the academic work: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0227444

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