Findings Tell Us About Who Settled Ancient North America

Anthropologists study of four ancient skulls uncovered in Mexico suggests that the first people to settle in North American were more diverse, biologically, than previously suspected. The skulls belong to individuals who live anywhere from nine thousand to thirteen thousand years ago.

These skulls and their analysis muddle the theory that the first settlers in the Americas were much more biologically similar. Scientists have long talked about the settlement of the Americas as if North and South shared a common narrative, but there stories are indeed very different.

Archaeologists unearthed the four skulls between 2008-15. They found them in submerged caves in Quintana Roo, Mexico. When the people the skulls belonged to were living the caves were above sea level.

The oldest of the skulls was very much akin to North American arctic people. The second oldest skull was more alike to European people. The third more alike to Asian or Native American peoples. The fourth sharing similarities with arctic peoples but having some South American features.

The skulls are very important because in North American fewer than 20 skeletons over eight thousand years old have been found, where as in South America between 300 to 400 have been found.

The work was published in “PLOS ONE”.

Ancient People Experience Modern Problems

Residents of one of the first farming communities, some 9,000 years old, were some of the first human beings to experience the dangers of urban living. These 8,000 some agrarians had to deal with infectious diseases, violence, overcrowding and environmental problems.

In this ambitious 25 year study of the dig at Catalhoyuk much is revealed about these early agrarians. Catalhoyuk started as a small settlement around 7100 B.C. They probably built and lived mud-brick huts. Using stable carbon isotope ratios from the bones of these ancient agrarians it was determined they ate mostly rye, barely and wheat in addition to many kinds of non-domesticated plants.

One disease of civilization that occurred from the grain-heavy diet was tooth decay. 10 to 13 percent of teeth found in adult remains showed decay.

Researchers also found that over time leg bone shapes changed demonstrating that later residents probably did more walking. Researchers think this as time went on farming and cattle raising were moved further and further out from the city center.

Other evidence including where domiciles were built and samples taken from the walls suggest that housing was crowded and that both animal and human feces were present in most of the homes which probably accounts for the high rates of evidence of infection found in the bone remains of residents.

These conditions were probably were also the cause of rather high levels of violence among residents. From 93 skulls sampled, 25 residents showed evidence of healed fractures. Some had multiple fractures accumulated over time. The shape of the injuries suggest many were caused by tools found at the site.

Clark Spencer Larsen, professor of anthropology at OSU, was the lead author of the study.