Scientists find oldest sub-Arctic human remains

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 25, 2011 8:25 EDT
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WASHINGTON — Scientists on Thursday announced they have discovered the oldest human remains ever found in sub-Arctic North America, offering a new window into the lives of the continent’s earliest inhabitants.

The discovery of the partially-cremated skeletal remains was made at an fire pit within an ancient dwelling at Alaska’s Upward Sun River site, according to an article appearing in the February 25 edition of the journal Science.

Researchers said remains, found at a newly excavated archaeological site in central Alaska, appear to be that of a three-year-old child who had been interred in the pit following a burial rite.

Radiocarbon dating of wood at the site indicates the cremation took place roughly 11,500 years ago, when the Bering Land Bridge may still have connected Alaska and Asia, according to the scientists from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

“This site reflects many different behaviors never before seen in this part of the world during the last Ice Age, and the preservation and lack of disturbance allows us to explore the life ways of these ancient peoples in new ways,” said archaeologist Ben Potter who excavated the site with four colleagues.

Researchers said study of the teeth at the site confirm that the child, who has been given the name Xaasaa Cheege Ts’eniin (haw-SAW CHAG tse-NEEN), which means “Upward Sun River Mouth Child,” is biologically affiliated with Native Americans and Northeast Asians.

The remains from the site, researchers said, are likely the oldest human remains found in northern North America as well as the second-youngest Ice Age child on the continent.

The archaeologists said they are working hand-in-hand with Alaska Natives to ensure that the excavation and subsequent examination will be carried out in a way that is respectful of traditional culture.

Support and funding for the excavation was provided by the US National Science Foundation, which praised the finding as a major breakthrough.

“This exciting, groundbreaking and multi-faceted research is in the best traditions of the social science research that NSF supports in the Arctic,” said Anna Kerttula de Echave, the project’s program officer at the NSF Office of Polar Programs.

“Equally significant is that the approach taken by the researchers reflects the importance, in modern arctic science, of collaborating with Native people as full partners in discovery.”

The burial pit contained not only the child’s remains, but also those of small mammals, birds, and fish as well as plants.
Because the human remains were in the uppermost part of the pit, above the animal remains, the researchers suspect the pit was not originally designed as a grave.

The researchers’ theory of how the remains came to be there is that a small group of people, which included adult females and young children, was foraging in the vicinity of a residential camp, fishing and hunting birds and small mammals.

The scientists surmise that a pit dug within a house, was used for cooking or as a means of disposing of food debris for weeks or months preceding the death of the child.

The child died and was cremated in the pit, which was likely filled with surrounding soil soon thereafter. The house was soon abandoned, they concluded, due to the lack of artifacts found above the fill.

Scientists said that although burned, some of the child’s remains may retain DNA, which would further broaden the scope of their discovery.

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  • Anonymous

    “Scientists on Thursday announced they have discovered the oldest human remains ever found in sub-Arctic North America”

    No, it wasn’t Noah.

  • Anonymous

    I’m surprised that they are allowed to study this. Usually such ancient remains are claimed by some Native American creationist group and destroyed. Sometimes with the complicity of the Army Corp of Engineers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Zentrails/100001475536421 Bob Zentrails

    This is the problem with the Theory that the Native Americas came to the American continents via a “Siberian Land Bridge.”

    The problem is that the Aleutian Island chain had been continuously occupied by Aleutian Indians for thousands of years. The US controlled a large part of the Aleutians before the end of WWII. The Japanese actually attacked our bases in the Aleutians as part of the Battle of Midway and one of their zeros crash landed there intact enough that our engineers could identify crucial weakness of the plane, thereby generating very effective fighter attack strategies from that moment on. It turned out that the fuel tanks on zeros were completely unarmored and did not use the rubber bladder system to limit fuel leaks after bullet punctures.

    Stalin took over control right near the end of WWII when they suddenly “decided” to declare war on Japan. This was just a couple weeks before Hiroshima and was certainly an important factor in Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on a populated area to scare the bejeebus out of Stalin, because he was getting mighty close to Alaska.

    The Soviets maintained control of the Aleutians Islands and their natives, who had lived there for thousands of years living in sophisticated mostly buried Tsunami proof huts. The author of the above article apparently is unaware of this method of construction that was necessary in the area because of the constant danger of Tsunamis. It is much more likely that this site was not a “fire pit” but rather the remains of one of these Tsunami proof huts, remains of which are found all over the Aleutian Islands.

    They only disappeared when Kruschev ordered them killed in the sixties as he wanted a Soviet military presence there to put more pressure on the US and he assumed that the local inhabitants would spy on them for the US. Just one more example that Kruschev was nearly as ruthless and blood thirsty as the guy he replaced.

    So, the problem with the “Siberian land bridge” theory is that there were already people living there and they would not have taken kindly to strangers trying to cross over their land. It is much more likely that Native Americans arrived here by boat crossing open ocean.

  • Anonymous

    I met native american wood carvers at a park in a rain forest in Vancouver and they told me that their distant relatives would canoe to Hawaii and back, way back in the day…
    That’s really interesting about the Aleutian Islands and their Natives. I’ll look into that. Does Russia still have a presence there? I’ll have to wiki all that etc. thanx!
    Tsunami proof huts!

  • Anonymous

    You’re really using events of the last hundred years as evidence of the geological and population situation that existed more than 1,100 times that period? Your logic doesn’t stand up. For one thing, 11,500 years ago the human population was only about 3 million. That’s spread across the entire world. By WWII the human population was roughly 2.5 billion. That’s 833 people in WWII for every person 11,500 years ago. It’s also logical to assume that the less temperate regions were less populated than were the more temperate regions. Even if the Aleutians existed as a chain of islands at that time they would have been very sparsely populated at best.

    Frankly, I’m more likely to accept the views of professional geologists as to the existence of the Bering Strait land bridge.