A 10,000-year-old skeleton found in a Nevada cave is the ancestor of a Native American tribe, according to a new study. The remains are known as the Spirit Cave mummy and were believed to be part of a group called “Paleoamericans” that existed before Native Americans. Genetic testing of DNA extracted from the mummy’s skull changed that.
The remains have proven controversial and were thought by some to belong to a group called Paleoamericans. This group was thought to have existed in North America before Native Americans, but the new study dismisses that belief, confirming that the Spirit Cave mummy was a Native American.
Researchers extracted DNA from the mummy’s skull and used that for genetic testing. This analysis had the consent of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe; the remains belonged to a male who died around the age of 40. He was reburied at a ceremony in Nevada this past summer following the testing results.
The Spirit Cave skeleton is the oldest natural mummy in the world and its DNA helped shed light on migration in North and South America thousands of years ago. The mummy was discovered back in 1940 alongside multiple partial remains; researchers noted that the remains still featured moccasins and was wrapped in reed mats and a leather blanket.
The study likewise found evidence of Australasian ancestry in Native South Americans, hinting at the possibility that migration took place into America earlier than believed. The same Australasian traces weren’t found in ancient Native American DNA from North America, though.