RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -- Anthropologists in Rio unveiled the oldest
known human fossil from the Americas Monday, a woman's skull with
African features that could revolutionize theories on the continent's early
The fossil -- first discovered in Brazil in 1975 but only recently found
come from a woman who lived 11,500 years ago -- shows there were
human beings on the continent long before Asian immigration, said
anthropologist Ricardo Ventura Santos.
"This is a piece that in practice is important toward understanding ...
settlement of the Americas," said Ventura Santos, of the National Museum
and the prestigious Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
"There's a lot of curiosity about it, that's why we're showing it to the
Scientists dubbed the woman "Luiza," Brazil's answer to the famed "Lucy,"
just over a year ago when new methods proved she was the earliest known
American. Luiza's namesake is a 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor found
in Ethiopia and now on display in a Paris museum.
Scientists say Luiza was a nomad who wandered with about a dozen
relatives in an area of what is now central Brazil, eating the natural vegetation
or on occasion animal meat. She died at around age 20 in some sort of
Before Luiza's appearance, paleontologists had been working on the theory
that the earliest Americans were the Asian ancestors of the Indians that
European colonizers encountered when they arrived on the American
continents 500 years ago.
These ancestors would have come from what we now know as Siberia and
Mongolia and crossed the Bering Straight between Asia and North America
on a glacial bridge at the end of the last Ice Age.
About a year ago, archeologist Walter Neves, one of the few specialists
human paleontology in Brazil, took an interest in the unusual shape of Luiza's
skull, which had been packed away for decades in the museum's vast
He believed the skull, which had been originally dug up from a 43-foot
cavern in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, showed Negroid features
rather than the Mongoloid features typical of Brazil's Indians.
"Its characteristics are very different in relation to the native population.
Therefore, it has an very big importance, above all in explaining the
settlement of the Americas and also for the history of humanity," said Jose
Henrique Vilhena, UFRJ's rector.
A tomography commissioned by a documentary team from Britain's BBC
and Rio's National Museum confirmed that Luiza had the round eyes, large
nose and pronounced chin characteristic of Australian aboriginals and native
A team of specialists in England did the imaging of Luiza's skull and molded
a bust of her head that will be on display alongside her skull at the museum.
The scientists believe Luiza's ancestors were in the same line of descent
Australia's aboriginals and crossed the northernmost Pacific Ocean by boat
nearly 15,000 years ago, next to glaciers that were forming at that time.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.