National Geographic : 2015 Jan
128 national geographic • january 2015 exploding in fresh directions over the past two decades. New archaeological finds, novel hy- potheses, and a trove of genetic data have shed fresh light on who the first Americans were and on how they might have come to the Western Hemisphere. But for all the forward motion, what’s clearest is that the story of the first Ameri- cans is still very much a mystery. For most of the 20th century it was assumed that the mystery had been more or less solved. In 1908 a cowboy in Folsom, New Mexico, found the remains of an extinct subspecies of giant bi- son that had roamed the area more than 10,000 years ago. Later, museum researchers discovered spearpoints among the bones—clear evidence that people had been present in North America much earlier than previously believed. Not long after, spearpoints dating to 13,000 years ago were found near Clovis, New Mexico, and what be- came known as Clovis points were subsequently found at dozens of sites across North America where ancient hunters had killed game. later Native Americans. These were risk-taking pioneers, and the toughest men were taking the spoils and winning fights over women. As a re- sult, their robust traits and features were being selected over the softer and more domestic ones evident in later, more settled populations. Chatters’s wild-type hypothesis is speculative, but his team’s findings at Hoyo Negro are not. Naia has the facial features typical of the earli- est Americans as well as the genetic signatures common to modern Native Americans. This signals that the two groups don’t look different because the earliest populations were replaced by later groups migrating from Asia, as some anthropologists have asserted. Instead they look different because the first Americans changed after they got here. Chatters’s research is just one interesting development in a field of study that has been The bones of at least 26 Ice Age animals—including those of an elephant-like gomphothere (above)—litter the floor of Hoyo Negro, the flooded cave where divers found Naia’s remains. The cavern was mostly dry during Naia’s short life. She may have fallen to her death while exploring the cave’s dark passages (right). PAUL NICKLEN (ABOVE). ART: JON FOSTER n Society Grants This research was generously supported with funds made possible in part by your National Geographic Society membership.