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The First Pacific Crossing 

Brazil Skull Intrigues Scientists
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- The discovery in southeastern Brazil of an 11,500-year-old skull -- the oldest in the new world -- may help to rewrite the theory of how the Americas were settled. A scientist studying Luzia, as the fossil is called, says his findings don't fit the old idea that the firstAmericans crossed the Bering land bridge in a single massive migration between 11,000 and 10,000 years ago. Researchers on separate projects have been coming to similar conclusions. Luzia apparently came from the South Pacific. That, according to University of Sao Paulo anthropologist Walter Neves, means Northeast Asians weren't the only settlers or even the first. "This is the first known American," Neves said in a recent telephone interview. "We were always told that the Americas were settled by         a Mongoloid people, but this shows that an older population came before them." Researchers found the skull and other bones near Belo Horizonte, about 200 miles north of Rio and determined that it probably belonged to a woman age 20 to 25. Scientists dubbed her Luzia, the Portuguese name for Lucy, the oldest known human unearthed in Africa in the 1970s. The skull and artifacts from what seemed to be a campsite were brought to the National Museum in Rio. Consistent results in carbon-dating tests carried out in France and Brazil have Neves convinced that the chance of error in dating the skull is "very slim." In 1995, Neves began tests to compare Luzia with modern humans. He found that Luzia's skull and teeth had characteristics similar to people of the South Pacific. That strengthened his belief that Pacific tribes reached the Americas before the Mongoloids, who arrived 8,000 to 9,000 years ago. A growing body of evidence supports the idea that migration occurred earlier and more often than scientists had thought. Neves believes there were four distinct waves of migration, though he won't hazard a guess at when the first settlers arrived. Tom Dillehay, a University of Kentucky researcher who excavated at the Monte Verde archaeological site in southern Chile, dated to 12,500 years ago, has said there is evidence that people may have lived in Chile as early as 33,000 years ago. Neves' theories jibe with the findings of U.S. anthropologists Joseph Powell and Erik Ozolins of the University of New Mexico, who tested about three dozen samples from North and South America. Since 1992, Powell has studied skulls and teeth of human fossils found in North America. He agrees that the first settlers probably were not from north-central Asia. "There has been mounting evidence since the late 1980s that non-Mongoloid people were among the first Americans," Powell said in a telephone interview from Albuquerque, N.M. Neves and Powell presented their findings at last month's annual meeting of the Association of American Physical Anthropologists Among them: The first South Americans resemble South Pacific and African populations, while the first North Americans seem to be a mixture of South        Pacific and European peoples.