According to the results of a genetic assessment published in the January 3 issue of Nature, the girl, who was just six weeks old when she died, belongs to an ethnic group predating and genetically distinct from North America’s dominant indigenous populations.
The skeleton of the Sunrise Girl-Child, so named after the Upward Sun River archaeological site where she was found in an ancient burial pit in 2013, is approximately 11,500 years old.
"These are the oldest human remains ever found in Alaska, but what is particularly interesting here is that this individual belonged to a population of humans that we have never seen before," said Professor Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, a co-author of the new study.
“So, you can say she comes from the earliest, or most original, Native American group […] and that means that she can tell us about the ancestors of all Native Americans," Dr. Willerslev told BBC News.
He added that the discovery of further remains in north-east Siberia and Alaska would give scientists more information to work with.
Ben Potter, the paper’s lead co-author and a professor of anthropology at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, said that this new research really only opens the door to more study of the new population, and how it may have interacted with the ancestors of North America’s modern-day Athabaskan, Dene and Inuit populations.