The oldest skull ever discovered in the Americas, of a woman who died 13,000 years ago at age 27, was found in Mexico in 1959, but has never been tested until now. Geologist Silvia Gonzalez, who was finally able to get the Mexican skull carbon-dated, says its long, narrow shows it is not Native American. She believes the first Americans came from Japan by boat, and says, “If this proves right, it’s going to be quite contentious. We’re going to say to Native Americans, ‘Maybe there were some people in the Americas before you, who are not related to you.'”

Gonzalez says the long, narrow skull shape shows that the earliest Americans were the Ainu people of Japan. American Indian skulls are round-faced with broad cheeks. She plans to go to Baja California to study the bones of the Pericue people, who went extinct in the 18th century, and who had the same elongated faces as the skull.

Jeordan Legon writes in CNN.com that one of the reasons this study is so controversial is that under a 1990 U.S. law, American Indians can claim all early skeletons that are found in the U.S. and rebury them before they can be studied by scientists. Another skull, which dates back 10,500 to 11,000 years, was claimed by the Shoshone-Bannock tribe. Since the carbon-dated skull was found in Mexico, it doesn’t need to be returned to them. Mexican anthropologist Jose Concepcion Jimenez Lopez says, “Here Mexico is providing the opportunity to see what clues these bones can yield about man’s arrival in the American continent.” Until now, archeologists believed the first Americans arrived 14,000 to 16,000 years ago by crossing into Alaska from Siberia, on a land bridge that no longer exists. But the skull Gonzalez is studying shows that people arrived here as early as 25,000 years ago by boat. She has found camps in Chile with remains of man-made tools, a human footprint and huts that date back 25,000 years.

Some day we’ll be able to travel back in time and learn the truth about so many of today’s mysteries.

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