The Hoyo Negro skull underwater Photo Credit: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic.

A skeleton, known as the Hoyo Negro (Black Hole) skeleton, is the most complete Paleoamerican remains known. It was found in 2007 by three divers exploring a Mexican cave.

It helps researchers get closer to understanding who the early “Americans” were and where they came from.

When I took archaeology and anthropology in college many years ago,  I learned that the first people here in what is modern America had Siberian features, and that these “Native Americans” (Paleoamericans) migrated over the now-submerged land bridge between present-day Siberia and Alaska. That occurred 18,000-26,000 years ago.

There seemed to be a gap though. The facial features of the oldest Paleo-Indian skeletons don’t look much like those of modern Native Americans. But the near-complete Hoyo Negro skull of a teenaged girl that is from a later transitional period (12,000-13,000 years old, has a narrow face, prominent forehead and wide-set eyes similar to that of other skulls considered to be Paleoamerican. She also shares a genetic signature with modern Native Americans.

The skeleton has been named  “Naia,” after the Greek word for “water nymph.”  Her cavern home, in her time, was about five miles inland from the Caribbean and not submerged.

At the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago), glacier melt and sea level changes flooded the cavern and after a few thousand years  it was completely underwater.

At the cave site, remains of extinct animals, including sabertooth cats were also found.

Another early American, the infant boy Anzick-1, was discovered in Montana and is about 12,600 years old. But they did not find the skull and jaw, so researchers had been unable to determine whether his features were typically Paleoamerican or more similar to that of modern Native Americans.

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