Scientists in Britain have identified the oldest skeleton ever found on the American continent in a discovery that raises fresh questions about the accepted theory of how the first people arrived in the New World. The skeleton's perfectly preserved skull belonged to a 26-year-old woman who died during the last ice age on the edge of a giant prehistoric lake which once formed around an area now occupied by the sprawling suburbs of Mexico City. Scientists from Liverpool's John Moores University and Oxford's Research Laboratory of Archaeology have dated the skull to about 13,000 years old, making it 2,000 years older than the previous record for the continent's oldest human remains. However, the most intriguing aspect of the skull is that it is long and narrow and typically Caucasian in appearance, like the heads of white, western Europeans today. Modern-day native Americans, however, have short, wide skulls that are typical of their Mongoloid ancestors who are known to have crossed into America from Asia on an ice-age land bridge that had formed across the Bering Strait. The extreme age of Peñon woman suggests two scenarios. Either there was a much earlier migration of Caucasian-like people with long, narrow skulls across the Bering Strait and that these people were later replaced by a subsequent migration of Mongoloid people. Alternatively, and more controversially, a group of Stone Age people from Europe made the perilous sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean many thousands of years before Columbus or the Vikings.The first scenario is not a silly at it seems, the racial makeup of Asia has been in a state of continuous change over the past 13,000 years. It's interesting that previous discoveries of skeletons without obvious East Asian features have been variously identified as European, Polynesian and even Australian. All of these origins are plausible. We know that there have been at least two migrations to America from Asia i.e. American Indian and Eskimo. Genetic and linguistic differences indicate that the American Indians are themselves descended from at least two migrations (Amerind and Na-Dene). It seems quite likely that there were several migrations, some via a Pacific coastal route rather than overland across the Bering land-bridge (I think however that we can leave aside the Thor Heyerdahl-style great voyage scenario just for the moment).
The findings have a resonance with the skull and skeleton of Kennewick man, who was unearthed in 1996 in the Columbia River at the town of Kennewick in Washington state. The skull, estimated to be 8,400 years old, is also long and narrow and typically Caucasian. James Chatters, one of the first anthropologists to study Kennewick man before it had been properly dated, even thought that the man may have been a European trapper who had met a sudden death sometime in the early 19th century. Kennewick man became the most controversial figure in American anthropology when native tribes living in the region claimed that, as an ancestor, his remains should be returned to them under a 1990 law that gave special protection to the graves and remains of indigenous Americans. The debate intensified after some anthropologists suggested that Kennewick man was Caucasian in origin and could not therefore be a direct ancestor of the native Americans living in the Kennewick area today.There is no reason at all to think that the Native Americans don't have a mixture of ancestor types, what exactly was "race" 13,000 years ago, any way? While Native Americans do have a demonstrable genetic affinity with East Asians, the differences are still very substantial and many of these affinities are with Eurasians in general including Europeans.