Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1    May 2011

Remains of ice-age child uncovered in Alaska
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Alaska: The remains of a child who died about 11,500 years ago have been unearthed in Alaska. The charred bones are the oldest human remains found in the North.

"This site is truly spectacular, in all senses of the word," said archeologist Ben Potter from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  While older remains have been found in other U.S. states, "within the Arctic, within the sub-Arctic, this is the earliest find, Potter added."

Most evidence of North America's early peoples comes from hunting camps and toolmaking sites. But this newly discovered "house" shows us domestic life back when the Bearing Land Bridge between Asia and Alaska may have been open.

Many believe the first people in North America came across this land bridge from Siberia more than 14,000 years ago. Those people migrated south through an ice-free corridor east of the Rocky Mountains -- today's Alaska and B.C. coasts.

Potter and his team suspect this was a seasonal summer residence. Wooden poles supported a roof, and a floor was dug about 27 cm into the ground. It overlooked a flood plain near the Tanana River where waters were thick with salmon, and people caught ground squirrels and ptarmigan.

Scientists believe the child was about 3 years old and died from unknown causes. The body seems to have been gently placed in a hearth, then cremated in a large pit in the centre of the home.  After the cremation, the fire pit appears to have been filled in and the house abandoned.

There is no evidence of cannibalism, said the researchers, who note the child was curled up in a "peaceful" position and laid in the pit.

The child has been named Xaasaa Cheege Ts'eniin (or Upward Sun River Mouth Child). The Alaska native community has sanctioned the excavation and testing of the child's remains.

"This find is especially important to us since it is in our area, but the discovery is so rare that it is of interest for all humanity," Jerry Isaac, president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

While less than 20% of the child's skeleton survived the intense heat, scientists say the charred remains may still contain DNA. 

Isaac will have his own DNA compared to the child's. The opportunity may also be extended to Alaska Natives to see if there are ancestral links.

The entire house has not yet been fully excavated, nor has the site, which could turn up more houses.

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