Six of the Oldest Human Remains Found in the U.S.
We recently shared some of the more amazing examples of ancient archaeology in the United States. This week, we travel even farther back in time to learn about some of the earliest known inhabitants of our country.
1. Minnesota Woman
Pelican Rapids is a quiet town nestled along the Pelican River in west central Minnesota, and it was here, back in 1931, where construction workers renovating U.S. Route 59 unearthed the skeletal remains of a teenage girl. Deteriorated shells coated the otherwise pristine skeleton. Buried close to the body was a conch shell pendant and a dagger made from the horn of an elk. The remains were eventually turned over to Dr. Albert Jenks from the University of Minnesota, who analyzed the skeleton and dubbed it "Minnesota Man," despite recognizing the remains were those of a woman. Subsequent analysis over the ensuing decades concluded that the remains were roughly 8,000 years old, and that the girl was a proto-indian who likely drowned in the glacial lake which once submerged much of the area. She was rightfully renamed "Minnesota Woman" in 1976.
2. Spirit Cave Mummy
The skeleton of 10,600-year-old man shrouded in a rabbit-skin blanket and reed mats is the oldest known mummy ever found in the United States. Strewn about the Nevada cave where the mummy was discovered were numerous artifacts, along with the cremated remains of three other individuals. The mummy may have more to tell us, but alas, his story and fate have been controversial. After decades of legal battles, the mummy was repatriated to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe in 2016 for reburial.
3. La Brea Woman
More than 3.5 million fossils from at least 600 different species have been discovered in Los Angeles' famed La Brea Tar Pits. The geological oddity, where sticky natural asphalt bubbles up from the ground, has been ensnaring animals for as long as 50,000 years. In all that time, La Brea has claimed one human that we know of. Her remains were uncovered over a century ago. Scientists' best estimate is that she was between 18 and 25 years old when captured by the muck around 10,200 years ago.
4. Arlington Springs Man
The remains of Arlington Springs Man, discovered on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Southern California, aren't much to look at – just two thigh bones are all that remain. However, radiocarbon dating of the bones suggests that the man who once owned them lived over 13,000 years ago! That would make his remains the oldest ever found in North America. Moreover, according to John R. Johnson, Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Arlington Springs Man "lends support for a theory that the earliest peoples to enter the Western Hemisphere may have migrated along the Pacific coast from Siberia and Alaska using boats."
5. Kennewick Man
Kennewick Man, perhaps the best known and most controversial ancient human remains in the United States, was found jutting from a patch of eroded dirt along the Columbia River near Kennewick Washington just 22 years ago. In life, roughly 9,000 years in the past, he spent much of his time moving around by water, hunting and eating marine animals and drinking glacial meltwater. In death, his remains were constantly the focus of lawsuits between indigenous peoples who sought to bury the remains and archaeologists who sought to learn from them. After DNA tests confirmed that Kennewick Man was closely related to modern day Native Americans, his remains were returned and reburied at an undisclosed location.
6. Anzick Boy
The skeletal remains of Anzick boy have proven to be perhaps the most fascinating and consequential in American history. A little more than one-year-old at death, the boy was surrounded with more than 115 tools made of stone and antler and also dusted with red clay called ocher. More than 12,700 years later, the collection was discovered on private land in western Montana owned by the Anzicks in 1968. Two-year-old Sarah Anzick would grow up inspired by the finding and become a genome researcher. She was a member of the team that completely sequenced the boy's genome in 2014. From that, she and her colleagues learned that the boy had Siberian ancestry as well as close genetic ties to modern Native Americans, providing strong genetic evidence that the first Americans crossed over a land bridge between Russia and Alaska.