Skeleton Stalagmite reveals people inhabited Mexico at least 13,000 years ago

A prehistoric human skeleton found on the Yucatán Peninsula is at least 13,000 years old and most likely dates from the glacial period at the end of the most recent ice age, the late Pleistocene. A team of German-Mexican researchers led by Professors Dr Wolfgang Stinnesbeck and Arturo González González has now dated the fossil skeleton based on a stalactite growing on the hip bone.


Before and after looting at the cave site in Mexico. ( Stinnesbeck et al ) Only about 10% of the skeleton remained on site, including the pelvis covered by stalagmite.

Prof. Stinnesbeck, who is an earth scientist at the University of Heidelberg. The study results have now been published in PLOS ONE.

The early settlement of the Americas is a subject of intense debate. One long-held theory is that the first migration took place 12,600 years ago through an ice-free corridor between the retreating glaciers of North America, across the Bering Land Bridge from the ice age between Siberia and Alaska. However, in recent years, this theory has been increasingly questioned by new findings from North and South America. They show that people got there earlier, explains Professor Stinnesbeck. However, these finds are mostly artefacts or open fires, the ages of which are determined using the sediments containing them. Until now, it was rare to find human bones more than 10,000 years old anywhere in the Americas.

The water-filled caves near Tulúm on the Yucatán – a peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea – provide a rich area for exploration. Seven prehistoric human skeletons have been recorded in a complex cave system near the coast on the eastern side of the peninsula, some of which have been previously dated by other researchers. Caves along the Caribbean coast of Yucatán were not flooded until sea levels rose worldwide after the ice age. According to Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, they contain archaeological, paleontological and climatological information hidden there from pre-flood times, which are extremely well preserved.
However, it is difficult to accurately determine the age of human bone material using conventional radiocarbon dating, because the collagen in the bone has been completely washed away by the long time spent in the bone. country. Therefore, Professor Stinnesbeck and his team of German-Mexican archaeologists and earth scientists chose a different method. By dating a stalactite that had grown on a hip bone, they were able to narrow down the age of human bones from Hang Chan Hol.


Analysis of uranium-thorium isotopes revealed the skeleton to be at least 11,300 years old. However, the climate and precipitation data stored in the stalactites show a clearly older age. It can be measured in terms of oxygen and carbon isotope ratios and compared with “environmental archival” data from other regions of the earth. At least 13,000 years old, the inhabitants of Hang Chan Hol probably date back to the Younger Dryas period. “It represents one of the oldest human skeletons from America. Our data underline the enormous importance of Tulúm Cave to the continental settlement debate,” says Prof Stinnesbeck.
According to earth scientist Heidelberg, the huge rate of urbanization and tourism growth in the region threatens the paleontological and archaeological archives preserved in the caves. Immediately after the discovery of the human skeleton in February 2012, the site of the find was looted; Unidentified divers stole all the bones lying around on the ground of the cave. Today there are only a handful of photographs and small bone fragments that demonstrate the condition of the original find. The hip bone investigated by the German-Mexican team of researchers only escaped theft thanks to the protection provided by the stalactite’s hard limestone.
Top image: Prehistoric human skeletons in Chan Hol cave near Tulúm on the Yucatán peninsula before being looted by anonymous cave divers. Source: Tom Poole / Liquid Jungle Lab

The article, originally titled ‘Human Bones of Southern Mexico: Stalactites Reveal Their Age as 13,000 Years Old’ was originally published in Science Daily.

Source: Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, Julia Becker, Fabio Hering, Eberhard Frey, Arturo González González, Jens Fohlmeister, Sarah Stinnesbeck, Norbert Frank, Alejandro Terrazas Mata, Martha Elena Benavente, Jerónimo Avilés Olguín, Eugenio Aceves Nú. The earliest settlers in Mesoamerica date to the late Pleistocene.

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