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Skeleton May Be One of the Oldest in Americas

September 11, 2004|From Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Divers investigating underwater caves near the Caribbean coast of Mexico have discovered what appears to be one of the oldest human skeletons in the Americas, archeologists said this week.

A team from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History discovered at least three skeletons in caves off the Yucatan Peninsula in 2001 and 2002.

Team leader Arturo Gonzalez said the bones must date from before the time when waters gradually seeped through the caves, 8,000 to 9,000 years ago, as Ice Age glaciers melted and the sea level rose by about 400 feet.

Tests on charcoal found beside one of the skeletons dated the substance to at least 10,000 years ago.

An expert at UC Riverside dated it as 11,670 radiocarbon years old, or well over 13,000 calendar years.

If confirmed, the radiocarbon date would be the oldest in the Americas obtained from a human bone, said Stuart Fiedel, an archeology textbook author.

The team's findings were reported this week at the international "Early Man in America" seminar in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, John Johnson of UC Santa Barbara said an elaborate restudy of a woman's femur found on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands established a calendar-year age of 13,200 to 13,500 years.

The age of the bone had been calculated as about 1,000 years younger when the discovery was made in 1959.

Both bones would be significantly older than the skeleton known as Kennewick Man -- 9,300-year-old Paleo-Indian remains found along a Washington state riverbank in 1996.

Until now, the Americas have produced 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.

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