Oldest subarctic North American human remains found

Feb 24, 2011
A man pulls a whaler's boat across the frozen Arctic Ocean in Browerville, Alaska, in 2006. Scientists on Thursday announced they have discovered the oldest human remains ever found in sub-Arctic North America, offering a new window into the lives of the continent's earliest inhabitants.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A newly excavated archaeological site in Alaska contains the cremated remains of one of the earliest inhabitants of North America. These remains may provide rare insights into the burial practices of Ice Age peoples, while shedding new light on their daily lives, according to a paper published Feb. 25 in the journal Science.

The find is also notable because archaeologists and Alaska Natives are working hand-in-hand to insure the excavation and subsequent examination of the remains of this child estimated to be approximately three years old at the time of death. This research will benefit science and the heritage studies while respecting traditional Athabaskan culture.

The apparent age of the remains found at the site, the researchers said, would certainly make these the oldest human remains found in Northern North America, as well as the second youngest Ice Age child on the continent.

The child has been named Xaasaa Cheege Ts'eniin (pronounced hausau chag ts'eneen), which translates to "Upward Sun River Mouth Child," based on a local native place name. The site, Xaasaa Na' (Upward Sun River), was formerly known as Little Delta Dune.

Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and his colleagues describe in the paper finding the skeletal remains in an ancient fire pit within an equally ancient dwelling near the Tanana River in central Alaska.

Radiocarbon dating of wood at the site indicates the cremation of the child may have taken place roughly 11,500 years ago, when the Bering Land Bridge may still have connected Alaska with Asia.

Initial observations of the teeth indicate the child is biologically affiliated with Native Americans and with Northeast Asians.

"This site reflects many different behaviors never before seen in this part of the world during the last Ice Age, and the preservation and lack of disturbance allows us to explore the life ways of these ancient peoples in new ways," Potter says.

The researchers note both the burial and the house itself are the earliest of their kind known in the North American near-Arctic. They add that discovery of burial sites of this age in North America is very rare; the buried remains of children even more so.

"The discovery of the remains was unexpected," Potter added.

In fact, it was an older occupation at the site (about 13,200 years ago) that first attracted the researchers to the site. Only while investigating this early occupation did the evidence of the burial come to light.

The initial excavation of the site was supported by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs with funds awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

OPP's Division of Arctic Sciences supports disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and broad, interdisciplinary investigations directed toward both the Arctic as a region of special scientific interest and a region important to global systems.

In the paper, the researchers note that the pit contained not only the child's remains—the researchers estimate less than 20 percent of the skeleton survived the cremation—but also remains of small mammals, birds, and fish as well as plant remains. Because the human remains were in the uppermost part of the pit, above the animal remains, the researchers suspect the pit was not originally designed as a grave, but evidence suggests the occupants abandoned the house after the cremation-burial.

Both researchers and tribal leaders agreed that the process of working together on this new find has fostered mutual respect and cooperation between them

Earliest human remains in US Arctic reported (AP)
This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows a trench connecting both areas of the site in Alaska. Some 11,500 years ago one of America's earliest families laid the remains of a three-year-old child to rest in their home in what is now Alaska. Today archaeologists are learning about the life and times of the early settlers who crossed from Asia to the New World, researchers thank to that burial. (Ben A. Potter, Science)

"This exciting, groundbreaking and multi-faceted research is in the best traditions of the research that NSF supports in the Arctic," said Anna Kerttula de Echave, program officer in the NSF Office of Polar Programs who oversees this award. "Equally significant is that the approach taken by the researchers reflects the importance, in modern Arctic science, of collaborating with Native people as full partners in discovery."

Potter and his colleagues' excavation and analysis were sanctioned by the local federally recognized Tribe, Healy Lake Traditional Council and its affiliated regional consortium, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC). Through consultation, initiated at the time of the discovery, Healy Lake and TCC support the scientific examination of both the site and the remains themselves.

"I would like to learn everything we can about this individual," said First Chief Joann Polston, of Healy Lake Traditional Council.

TCC President Jerry Isaac added that "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."

Although burned, some of the child's remains may retain DNA. Isaac intends to have his own DNA compared to the find. Polston would like to expand the opportunity to any Alaska Native in the region.

Based on the stratigraphy—or examination of layers of materials in the fire pit—and other evidence, the researchers describe a possible sequence for how the remains came to be interred at the site.

They hypothesize a small group of people, which included adult females and young children, who were foraging in the area in the vicinity of this residential camp, fishing and hunting birds and small mammals.

A pit was dug within a house, used for cooking and/or a means of disposing food debris for weeks or months preceding the death of the child.

The child died and was cremated in the pit.

The pit was likely filled with surrounding soil soon after the body was burned. The house was fairly soon abandoned, they concluded, due to the lack of artifacts found above this fill.

Potter noted the find is significant also because it crosses a number of disciplinary boundaries; the artifacts, features, stratigraphy, preservation, and the human remains. These finds allow for the integration and synthesis of stone tool technology, cultural affiliation, subsistence economy, seasonal use of the landscape, paleoenvironments and climate change at the end of the last Ice Age northern North America.

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GSwift7
1.4 / 5 (10) Feb 24, 2011
with funds awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


Okay, lets be fair here. I don't think the word 'Recovery' in this instance was supposed to mean 'recovering' +10k year old bones from Alaska. Wasn't this money supposed to create jobs? I read an awefull lot of articles about the NSF that kinda offend me; this is one of them. I should write a letter to my Congressman, Joe Wilson, and tell him I have an idea about where to start cutting the deficite.

Don't get me wrong. The study is cool. I just think the funding is shady in this case. That money was supposed to create jobs and get the economy rolling. No wonder it didn't work.
RayCherry
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 24, 2011
Can you really put a price on such a discovery?
FrankHerbert
3 / 5 (8) Feb 24, 2011
I guess archeologist and anthropologist aren't jobs according to GSwift7.
Occupodies
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 24, 2011
with funds awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


Okay, lets be fair here. I don't think the word 'Recovery' in this instance was supposed to mean 'recovering' +10k year old bones from Alaska. Wasn't this money supposed to create jobs? I read an awefull lot of articles about the NSF that kinda offend me; this is one of them. I should write a letter to my Congressman, Joe Wilson, and tell him I have an idea about where to start cutting the deficite.

Don't get me wrong. The study is cool. I just think the funding is shady in this case. That money was supposed to create jobs and get the economy rolling. No wonder it didn't work.


You're an idiot, the NSF's usual concern in funding is whether or not it will produce scientific results, not whether or not it'll stroke the economy's cock.
TLO
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2011
Paying people to dig is a stroke to the economy in a reach around kinda way.
wtf
1 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2011
The initial excavation of the site was supported by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs with funds awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
_________________________________________________ read on:
On Feb. 13, 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 at the urging of President Obama, who signed it into law four days later. A direct response to the economic crisis, the Recovery Act has three immediate goals:

* Create new jobs and save existing ones
* Spur economic activity and invest in long-term growth
* Foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending

wtf
1 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2011
The Recovery Act intends to achieve those goals by:

* Providing $288 billion in tax cuts and benefits for millions of working families and businesses
* Increasing federal funds for education and health care as well as entitlement programs (such as extending unemployment benefits) by $224 billion
* Making $275 billion available for federal contracts, grants and loans
* Requiring recipients of Recovery funds to report quarterly on how they are using the money. All the data is posted on Recovery.gov so the public can track the Recovery funds.
wtf
1 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2011
speaking of reach arounds....so how does the ARAA fund the NSF and fucking why ? This is pig trough abuse. The NSF has no business receiving funding from the ARAA. Some other science related source ? No problem. University researchers have gone to jail for less than this. (Govt funded studies where money from the funded study was used for purposes other than this study).
rwinners
1 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2011
Can you imagine? 13K years ago, a 'village' was created. For more than 2K years, it was used. And not much changed during that time.
But I'll bet that during all that time, no one argued about how the money got spent.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 25, 2011
I guess archeologist and anthropologist aren't jobs according to GSwift7


There is a difference between a contract for research that lasts a few months and creating a new business that will sustain itself indefinitely, providing permanent jobs. Also, there is a fundamental difference between a government job like a University research project funded by taxes and a business that will generate tax revenue for years to come. If we are going to get our economy back on track then we need to create jobs that pay taxes rather than jobs that are paid for with taxes.
ricarguy
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2011
But I'll bet that during all that time, no one argued about how the money got spent.


I will also bet during all that time, no one ever saddled their daughter's and grand-daughter's generation with unsustainable debt like we have.
GSwift7
2 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2011
But I'll bet that during all that time, no one argued about how the money got spent


I don't think they had money, or math, or written language.
GSwift7
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2011
I guess archeologist and anthropologist aren't jobs according to GSwift7


I think an artist does more to stimulate the economy than a research dig, as the artist will create something that people are willing to pay for, such as a play, a movie or a painting. Pure research can have economic results, especially when it results in a way to improve our society in some way. Some research finds safer ways to build buildings, a cheaper way to make something, a more efficient way to use a resource like water or food. I don't have a problem with an archeological dig. I just think it should not have been funded by the stimulus bill money. The NSF has its own budget. The stimulus money was supposed to focus on stimulating the economy. I don't think the money was managed very well. Other types of research would have been more appropriate than this. How about a solar power grant, for example?
ricarguy
1.4 / 5 (9) Feb 25, 2011
Understand who wrote the stimulus bill. It was not written by our elected officials in Congress, it was written by Obama's socialist buddies; by people who have never created a job or even worked in the private sector. It was not written by anyone who created an actual business or ever made a payroll. It was written by people who neither comprehend nor accept the free market, or capitalist system.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.4 / 5 (7) Feb 25, 2011
Understand who wrote the stimulus bill. It was not written by our elected officials in Congress, it was written by Obama's socialist buddies;
You might want to take your own advice. The stimulus was written and passed under Bush.
It was not written by anyone who created an actual business or ever made a payroll. It was written by people who neither comprehend nor accept the free market, or capitalist system.
Well at least you got the second half right.
ricarguy
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2011
Perhaps you are talking about TARP? Obama signed the "Stimulus" bill that I am talking about into law. It was one of the first major pieces of legislation he signed as president.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2011
Perhaps you are talking about TARP? Obama signed the "Stimulus" bill that I am talking about into law. It was one of the first major pieces of legislation he signed as president.

Cite the HR number and date of signing please.
Occupodies
5 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2011

Once the NSF receives the money, no matter the source, their concern is on the science. It's up to the committee giving the money to the NSF to decide whether the NSF is deserving of the money, beyond that the NSF will do as it always has. If you write a proposal they will appropriate the proposal and get peer reviews of your proposal and use a committee to decide whether it's worth funding.
Occupodies
1 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2011
Also, there's already an extreme amount of research being done on solar energy, you think the small amount of money they probably gave to this particular venture would even compare to the huge income flowing towards solar energy... lolololololol is all I have to say to that.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 25, 2011
Also, there's already an extreme amount of research being done on solar energy, you think the small amount of money they probably gave to this particular venture would even compare to the huge income flowing towards solar energy... lolololololol is all I have to say to that.

Solar energy receives less funding than nuclear weapons maintenance in the US. Saying that there's a huge income flowing into solar research from the NSF is laughable.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2011
Solar energy receives less funding than nuclear weapons maintenance in the US. Saying that there's a huge income flowing into solar research from the NSF is laughable


Yep. Public money for energy research isn't much compared to other areas. It's impossible to say for sure, so this is a pure guess, but I would bet that private money on energy research is probably more than public money. There is money to be made from energy research and from designing more efficient machines like air conditioners, computers, cars, industrial lighting, etc. There could be way more money given to those private research efforts in the form of grants or tax breaks. It should be a national priority because of the huge benefits, no matter whether you are a tree hugger or not.
Occupodies
not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
Also, there's already an extreme amount of research being done on solar energy, you think the small amount of money they probably gave to this particular venture would even compare to the huge income flowing towards solar energy... lolololololol is all I have to say to that.


Solar energy receives less funding than nuclear weapons maintenance in the US. Saying that there's a huge income flowing into solar research from the NSF is laughable.


Never said it was from the NSF solely =P.
Odin
not rated yet Mar 03, 2011
with funds awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


Don't get me wrong. The study is cool. I just think the funding is shady in this case. That money was supposed to create jobs and get the economy rolling. No wonder it didn't work.


great point thank you. Also, the women quoted, "joanna polsten" she iS NOT The cheif of that village. I am FROM that village. are you worried about government funds to create jobs? did you know people like her embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of the tribe and use it for themselves?

just putting it out there, becuase stuff like this is ALWAYS ignored. I cant' do anything but listen to adults complain about it, but I've decided to give it some publicity. that at least I can do.

THIS IS YOUR TAX MONEY PEOPLE! DO SOMETHING!