| Ancient teen remains in underwater Mexico cave offers clue to American origins!

Sunken body clue to American origins 

Diver examines the skull underwaterThe skull has been removed from the cavern but most of the skeleton remains in place

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The ancient remains of a teenage girl discovered deep underground in Mexico are providing additional insights on how the Americas came to be populated.

Divers found the juvenile’s bones by chance in a vast, flooded limestone chamber on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Aged 15 or 16 at death, the girl lived at least 12,000 years ago.

Researchers have told Science Magazine her DNA backs the idea that the first Americans and modern Native American Indians share a common ancestry.

This theory argues that people from Siberia settled on the land bridge dubbed Beringia that linked Asia and the Americas some 20,000 years ago before sea levels rose.

BeringiaSea levels 20,000 years ago were low enough to expose a land bridge across the Bering Sea

These people then moved south to populate the American continents.

The genetics of modern Native Americans would certainly appear to link them into this story. But their facial features set them apart from the oldest skeletons now being unearthed.

These ancient people had narrower, longer skulls. The differences have hinted that perhaps there were multiple immigrations from Siberia (or even Europe).

Evolution linkHowever, the remains of the Yucatan girl, dubbed Naia – which means “water nymph” in Greek – does not follow that line of thinking, because although she had the slender features associated with the earliest Americans, her DNA shares commonalities with modern Native Americans.

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It appears she fell quite a distance and struck something hard”

Dr Jim ChattersLead researcher

Lab analysis of teeth and bone samples link her to a particular genetic lineage known as Haplogroup D1.

This same marker is found in substantial numbers of modern Native Americans.

“This lineage is thought to have developed in Beringia, the land that now lies beneath the Bering Sea after its ice age occupants became genetically isolated from the rest of Asia,” explained lead author Dr Jim Chatters.

“Thus, Naia, one of the earliest occupants of the Americas yet found, suggests that Paleoamericans do not represent an early migration from a part of the world different than that of the Native Americans.

“Rather, Paleoamericans and Native Americans descended from the same homeland in Beringia.

“The differences between them likely arose from evolution that occurred after the Beringian gene pool became separated from the rest of the world.”

CavernThe bell-shaped cavern is more than 10m (33ft) below ground and is some 60m in diameter

The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its giant limestone sinkholes, or cenotes.

The chamber where the girl was found represents one of these pits before its roof has collapsed to produce a wide surface opening.

To reach the natural amphitheatre, divers had to swim almost 1km (0.6 miles) through a water-filled tunnel.

“The moment we entered inside, we knew it was an incredible place,” recalled Alberto Nava.

“The floor disappeared under us and we could not see across to the other side. We pointed our lights down and to the side; all we could see was darkness.

“We felt as if our powerful underwater lights were being destroyed by this void. So we called it ‘black hole’, which in Spanish is ‘Hoyo Negro’.”

‘Died almost instantly’

ToothSamples taken from a tooth were used to both date the remains and test for DNA

Scientists can only speculate as to why Naia had been in the cavern. Skeletal remains of many animals also litter the pit’s floor.

The suspicion is that they all were looking for water, because the region had a very dry climate 12,000 years ago and the cavern would have been mostly dry but for a few pools.

Perhaps they stumbled and fell to their death in the darkness.

“Her pelvis is broken and it appears to have been broken at or around the time of her death because it’s fractured in a way that relatively young bone would break rather than ancient bone,” said Dr Chatters.

“So, it appears she fell quite a distance and struck something hard. I think she died almost instantly, if not instantly.”

On the face of it, the new study supports research published in February that looked at the genetics of an infant who died at about the same time in what is now the US State of Montana.

This investigation of “Anzick” boy, as he has become known, was conducted on the main DNA material found in the nuclei of the cells.

Naia’s DNA, on the other hand, was sourced from outside the nuclei of her cells – in structures called the mitochondria. These carry much more limited information.

Dr Shane Doyle from Montana State University said Dr Chatters’ team therefore still had some ground to travel before very robust conclusions could be drawn.

“In my view they have a way to go before they can say anything substantial,” he told BBC News.

“It’s extremely difficult to get at the nuclear DNA and decoding it is very complex, but this is what they need to do. Until they do that, they cannot tell us a lot about where Native American Indians came from.”

Dr Chatters confirmed that unravelling Naia’s nuclear genome was a future priority.

DiverThe researchers found the remains of 26 large mammals including this extinct sloth

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter:@BBCAmos

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| We must give the land back: America’s brutality toward Native Americans continues today!

We must give the land back: America’s brutality toward Native Americans continues today ~ , Salon.

Americans have unjustly taken vast tracts of land. This Presidents’ Day, let’s uphold our treaties and return it.

We must give the land back: America's brutality toward Native Americans continues todaySioux Indians, six of whom were present at the Battle of Little Big Horn, gather in Custer State Park in the Black Hills area of Custer, S.D. on Sept. 2, 1948. (Credit: AP)

I write often about liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation, a habit that evokes passionate response. I have yet to encounter a response that persuades me to abandon the commitment to Palestinian liberation.

I have, however, encountered responses that I consider worthy of close assessment, particularly those that transport questions of colonization to the North American continent. You see, there is a particular defense of Zionism that precedes the existence of Israel by hundreds of years.

Here is a rough sketch of that defense: Allowing a Palestinian right of return or redressing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-49 is ludicrous. Look what happened to the Native Americans. Is the United States supposed to return the country to them?

Israeli historian Benny Morris puts it this way: “Even the great American democracy couldn’t come to be without the forced extinction of Native Americans. There are times the overall, final good justifies terrible, cruel deeds.”

This reasoning suggests a finality to the past, an affirmation of tragedy trapped in the immutability of linear time. Its logic is terribly cliché, a peculiar form of common sense always taken up, everywhere, by the beneficiaries of colonial power.

The problems with invoking Native American genocide to rationalize Palestinian dispossession are legion. The most noteworthy problem speaks to the unresolved detritus of American history: Natives aren’t objects of the past; they are living communities whose numbers are growing.

It’s rarely a good idea to ask rhetorical questions that have literal answers. Yes, the United States absolutely should return stolen land to the Indians. That’s precisely what its treaty obligations require it to do.

*

The United States is a settler nation, but its history hasn’t been settled. Yet most people invoke Natives as if they lost a contest that entrapped them in the past — and this only if Natives are considered at all. As a result, most analyses of both domestic and foreign policies are inadequate, lacking a necessary context of continued colonization and resistance.

For Natives, political aspirations aren’t focused on accessing the mythologies of a multicultural America, but on the practices of sovereignty and self-determination, consecrated in treaty agreements (and, of course, in their actual histories). Treaties aren’t guidelines or suggestions; they are nation-to-nation agreements whose stipulations exist in perpetuity. That the federal government still ignores so many of those agreements indicates that colonization is not simply an American memory.

One of the most famous violations is the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851, 1868), which guaranteed the Lakota possession of the Black Hills. The American government seized the Black Hills nine years after signing the treaty, in 1877, having discovered sizable deposits of gold and other precious minerals.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had unjustly appropriated the Black Hills (the ruling doesn’t use the word “stolen,” but it’s an accurate descriptor of what occurred). The Court awarded the Lakota $15.5 million (now well over $100 million with inflation) for the adjusted value of the appropriated land, but the tribe has consistently refused the monetary settlement, preferring instead to retain entitlement to its historic territory.

To clarify: Vast portions of five U.S. states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana — are Indian land according to a treaty to which the American government voluntarily assented. The highest legal authority in the United States has acknowledged that a significant portion of the land in question is rightfully Lakota. The American government refuses to return that land.

Let’s therefore drop the quaint notion that the colonization of Natives is a tragedy limited to the days of yore.

*

A comparable example of continuing U.S. colonization (unfortunately, this could go on a while) exists in Hawaii, the youngest American state. Hawaii became an American possession in 1893 due to a coup d’état led by colonist Sanford Dole, cousin of James Dole, who, not so coincidentally, made a fortune growing produce on the islands.

President Grover Cleveland commissioned an investigation into the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, led by Georgia congressman James Henderson Blount. The Blount Report condemned the annexation of Hawaii. The condemnation ultimately did no good. American businessmen and politicians saw too much value in the new property to constrain their avarice. To this day, the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) do not recognize the legitimacy of the annexation and consider themselves subjects of foreign rule.

(For an excellent analysis of these matters, please read J. Kēhaulani Kauanui’s Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity.”

While American tourists enjoy hula dances and Mai Tais on stolen land, the Kanaka Maoli, victims of a conquest that in no way has passed, continue to organize for liberation.

*

Colonialism is present across North America in less obvious ways, though the lack of obviousness doesn’t mitigate its relevance.

Corporate malfeasance is especially harmful to indigenous communities in the Americas (and across the world). Native nations have dealt with an uninterrupted expropriation of resources for over a century and now experience an inordinate amount of disease and pollution. At present, Natives and their allies in both Canada and the U.S. are working to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that portends environmental damage and serious health concerns.

Natives have encountered violence in attempting to exercise their hunting and fishing rights. (Does the phrase “save a fish, spear an Indian” ring a bell?) Police brutality is acute in Indian Country. Natives, women especially, are murdered at an epidemic rate, with the majority of cases unresolved. And many communities are still waiting on various institutions to comply with federal legislation requiring the return of artifacts and human remains to their rightful owners.

Nor should we forget that the forced sterilization of Native women and the kidnapping of children to be educated (read: brutally assimilated) in government boarding schools, where many were sexually molested and subject to countless other abuses, were still happening within the past half-century.

The inveterate omission of these realities in analyses of American politics constitutes an erasure of indigenous histories and illuminates why it is so easy to conceptualize the United States as historically settled. If we recall the existence of dynamic Indian nations, though, we have no choice but to rethink the commonplaces of American virtue.

It is a foolish conceit to suggest that history has ended in the United States. No amount of ignorance (willful or unwitting) will invalidate the vigorous efforts to decolonize the North and South American continents.

When Israel’s apologists invoke the dispossession of living communities on those continents as a rationale for colonizing Palestine, they betray a profound disdain of indigenous humanity, the sort of contempt that renders the oppressor’s psyche so unsettled.

Steven Salaita is an associate professor of English.

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