This is the face of the
first known American, Lucia
The first Americans were descended from Australian
according to evidence in a new BBC documentary.
skulls suggest faces like those of Australian Aborigines
The programme, Ancient Voices, shows that the dimensions of
prehistoric skulls found in Brazil match those of the aboriginal
peoples of Australia and Melanesia. Other evidence suggests that these
first Americans were later massacred by invaders from Asia.
Until now, native Americans were believed to have descended from
Asian ancestors who arrived over a land bridge between Siberia and
Alaska and then migrated across the whole of north and south America.
The land bridge was formed 11,000 years ago during the ice age, when
sea level dropped.
However, the new evidence shows that these people did not arrive
in an empty wilderness. Stone tools and charcoal from the site in
Brazil show evidence of human habitation as long ago as 50,000 years.
The site is at Serra Da Capivara in remote northeast Brazil.
This area is now inhabited by the descendants of European settlers and
African slaves who arrived just 500 years ago.
But cave paintings found here provided the first clue to the
existence of a much older people.
costumes and rituals shown in rock art survived in Terra del Fuego
Images of giant armadillos, which died out before the last ice age,
show the artists who drew them lived before even the natives who
greeted the Europeans.
These Asian people have facial features described as mongoloid.
However, skulls dug from a depth equivalent to 9,000 to 12,000 years
ago are very different.
Walter Neves, an archaeologist from the University of Sao Paolo,
has taken extensive skull measurements from dozens of skulls,
including the oldest, a young woman who has been named Lucia.
"The measurements show that Lucia was anything but mongoloid,"
Neves has measured hundreds of skulls
The next step was to reconstruct a face from Lucia's skull. First, a
CAT scan of the skull was done, to allow an accurate working model to
Then a forensic artist, Richard Neave from the University of
Manchester, UK, created a face for Lucia. The result was surprising:
"It has all the features of a negroid face," says Dr Neave.
skull is 12,000 years old
The skull dimensions and facial features match most closely the
native people of Australia and Melanesia. These people date back to
about 60,000 years, and were themselves descended from the first
humans, who left Africa about 100,000 years ago.
But how could the early Australians have travelled more than
13,500 kilometres (8,450 miles) at that time? The answer comes from
more cave paintings, this time from the Kimberley, a region at the
northern tip of Western Australia.
Here, Grahame Walsh, an expert on Australian rock art, found the
oldest painting of a boat anywhere in the world. The style of the art
means it is at least 17,000 years old, but it could be up to 50,000
And the crucial detail is the high prow of the boat. This would
have been unnecessary for boats used in calm, inland waters. The
design suggests it was used on the open ocean.
Archaeologists speculate that such an incredible sea voyage,
from Australia to Brazil, would not have been undertaken knowingly but
Just three years ago, five African fishermen were caught in a
storm and a few weeks later were washed up on the shores of South
America. Two of the fishermen died, but three made it alive.
But if the first Americans had drifted from
Australia, where are their descendants now? Again, the skulls suggest
The shape of the skulls changes between 9,000 and 7,000 years
ago from being exclusively negroid to exclusively mongoloid. Combined
with rock art evidence of increasing violence at this time, it appears
that the mongoloid people from the north invaded and wiped out the
Cristina Calderon may be one of the few surviving descendants of
the first Americans
The only evidence of any survivors comes from Terra del Fuego,
the islands at the remotest southern tip of South America.
The pre-European Fuegeans, who lived stone age-style lives until
this century, show hybrid skull features which could have resulted
from intermarrying between mongoloid and negroid peoples. Their
rituals and traditions also bear some resemblance to the ancient rock
art in Brazil.
The identity of the first Americans is an emotive and
controversial question. But the evidence from Brazil, and a handful of
people who still live at the very tip of South America, suggests that
the Americas have been home to a greater diversity of humans than
previously thought - and for much longer.
Reprinted from BBC News
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