A cave diver inspects the newly-discovered skull of Naia in a submerged cave on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico (Photo - Daniel Riordan Araujo)
One of the oldest human skeletons in North America has been discovered by a team of international scientists in an underwater Yucatán Peninsula cave.
Named “Naia”, the teenager fell to her death in a large pit called Hoyo Nego, meaning “black hole” in Spanish.
Patricia Beddows, a cave-diving researcher from Northwestern University, said: ”The preservation of all the bones in this deep water-filled cave is amazing - the bones are beautifully laid out.”
"The girl’s skeleton is exceptionally complete because of the environment in which she died — she ended up in the right water and in a quiet place without any soil. Her pristine preservation enabled our team to extract enough DNA to determine her shared genetic code with modern Native Americans," she added.
The skeleton, which is now covered in water, is estimated to be between 12,000 and 13,000 years old, suggesting Naia lived in the late Pleistocene or last ice age.
Naia measured 4ft 10in tall and was delicately built. Her estimated age of death was 15 or 16 years old, based on the development of her teeth.
The near-complete human skeleton, which has an intact cranium and preserved DNA, was found lying 130ft below sea level near a variety of extinct animals, including an elephant-like creature and relative of the mastodon called a gomphothere. These remains helped scientists establish the age of the skeleton.