One of the oldest skeletons ever to be found in the Americas has been discovered in an underwater sea cavern in the Yucatan Peninsula, just 80 miles south of Cancun. National Geographic reports that German cave divers accidentally uncovered the Ice Age human in 2006 after swimming more than 1,800 feet through cavernous tunnels. Recently, the skeleton dubbed “Young Man of Chan Hol” was finally raised for research.

The skeleton is all that remains of what was believed to be a man buried by fire and ritual. Due to the lack of wear on his remarkably-preserved teeth, he is believed to have been rather young. The man, whose skeleton is 60 percent complete, is thought to have been a descendent of the people of South Asia and Indonesia. The Young Man is thought to be similar to the Woman of Naharon, another skeleton found in a nearby underwater cave. He is the fourth skeleton studied as part of a National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) project. 

Arturo Gonzalez is paleo biology specialist. As he told reporters, “Our dating confirmed that skeletons collected in Quintana Roo caves belonged to members of Pre Clovis groups and are part of the few human rests found from the American Terminal Pleistocene, with physical features similar to those of people from Central and South Asia, suggesting there were several migrations to our continent.” This differs from America’s other early migrants who came from northern Asia.

When the Young Man lived, the Yucatan Peninsula was an arid savannah, not covered in rain forests as it is today.  Wolfgang Stinnesbeck is a geologist at Heidelberg University in Germany.  As Stinnesbeck told National Geographic, "The Yucatán surface was dry, and there were no rivers or lakes on the surface.” Archeologists have found evidence of bonfires where the Young Man was discovered and believe that he was ritually placed there.

But then the Ice Age ice caps melted, they flooded caves near Tulum, of Quintana Roo, Mexico. This is primarily why experts believe this skeleton to be at least 10,000 years old, as its location made it impossible for humans to access after the melt. The area also includes the remains of ancient horses, giant armadillos, and other Ice Age animals.

The Young Man of Chan Hol will be kept in plastic as he dries out for the next few months before researchers continue their study.

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Ancient skeleton discovered in Mexican underwater cave
Experts think the “Young Man of Chan Hol” was laid to rest around 10,000 years ago in elaborate ritual.