|Posted on December 4, 2020 at 5:30 PM|
A human skull that is prominently displayed at the National Museum here has been attracting crowds and controversy in equal measure since it was first unveiled early this month. After two decades in storage, the fossilized cranium has now been identified by Brazilian scientists as the oldest human remains ever recovered in the Western Hemisphere.
The skull is that of a young woman, nicknamed Luzia, who is believed to have roamed the savannah of south-central Brazil some 11,500 years ago. Even more startling, a reconstruction of her cranium undertaken in Britain this year indicates that her features appear to be Negroid rather than Mongoloid, suggesting that the Western Hemisphere may have initially been settled not only earlier than thought, but by a people distinct from the ancestors of today's North and South American Indians.
''We can no longer say that the first colonizers of the Americas came from the north of Asia, as previous models have proposed,'' said Dr. Walter Neves, an anthropologist at the University of Sao Paulo, who made the initial discovery along with an Argentine colleague, Hector Pucciarelli. ''This skeleton is nearly 2,000 years older than any skeleton ever found in the Americas, and it does not look like those of Amerindians or North Asians.''
If the date is confirmed, the find could transform thinking about the peopling of the Americas. It may be some time before that work is completed, but meanwhile, archeologists here and abroad say the find is potentially very important.
The finds, along with recent discoveries in North America like those of the so-called Kennewick Man and Spirit Cave Man, are forcing a reassessment of long-established theories as to the settling of the Americas. Based on such evidence, Dr. Neves suggests that Luzia belonged to a nomadic people who began arriving in the New World as early as 15,000 years ago.
Luzia's Negroid features notwithstanding, Dr. Neves is not arguing that her ancestors came to Brazil from Africa in an early trans-Atlantic migration. Instead, he believes they originated in Southeast Asia, ''migrating from there in two directions, south to Australia, where today's aboriginal peoples may be their descendants, and navigating northward along the coast and across the Bering Straits until they reached the Americas.''
About one-third of Luzia's skeleton has been recovered, enough to indicate that she appears to have perished in an accident or perhaps even from an animal attack. She was in her 20's when she died, stood just under five feet tall, and was part of a group of hunter-gatherers who appear to have subsisted largely on whatever fruits, nuts and berries they came across in their meanderings, plus the occasional piece of meat.
AMER'ICAN, adjective Pertaining to America.
AMER'ICAN, noun A native of America; originally applied to the aboriginals, or copper-colored races, found here by the Europeans; but now applied to the descendants of Europeans born in America.
The name American must always exalt the pride of patriotism. - Washington
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