Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Craniometric evidence for Palaeoamerican survival in Baja California


A current issue on the settlement of the Americas refers to the lack of morphological affinities between early Holocene human remains (Palaeoamericans) and modern Amerindian groups, as well as the degree of contribution of the former to the gene pool of the latter1,2,3,4,5,6. A different origin for Palaeoamericans and Amerindians is invoked to explain such a phenomenon3. Under this hypothesis, the origin of Palaeoamericans must be traced back to a common ancestor for Palaeoamericans and Australians, which departed from somewhere in southern Asia and arrived in the Australian continent and the Americas around 40,000 and 12,000 years before present, respectively. Most modern Amerindians are believed to be part of a second, morphologically differentiated migration3. Here we present evidence of a modern Amerindian group from the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico, showing clearer affinities with Palaeoamerican remains than with modern Amerindians. Climatic changes during the Middle Holocene probably generated the conditions for isolation from the continent, restricting the gene flow of the original group with northern populations, which resulted in the temporal continuity of the Palaeoamerican morphological pattern to the present.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Results concerning the multivariate analysis of Howells variables.
Figure 2: Geometric morphometric comparisons of BCS, TLAT and Palaeoamericans.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Neves, W. A. & Pucciarelli, H. M. Morphological affinities of the first Americans: an exploratory analysis based on early South American human remains. J. Hum. Evol. 21, 261–273 (1991)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Powell, J. F. & Neves, W. A. Craniofacial morphology of the first Americans: pattern and process in the peopling of the New World. Yearb. Phys. Anthropol. 42, 153–188 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Neves, W. A., Powell, J. F. & Ozolins, E. G. Extra-continental morphological affinities of Lapa Vermelha IV, Hominid 1: A multivariate analysis with progressive numbers of variables. Homo 50, 263–282 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  4. Neves, W. A., Powell, J. F. & Ozolins, E. G. Extra-continental morphological affinities of Palli-Aike, Southern Chile. Interciencia 24, 258–263 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  5. González-José, R., Dahinten, S. L., Luis, M. A., Hernández, M. & Pucciarelli, H. M. Craniometric variation and the settlement of the Americas: testing hypotheses by means of R matrix and matrix permutation tests. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 116, 154–166 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. González-José, R., Neves, W., Hernández, M., Pucciarelli, H. & Correal, C. Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene skulls from Mexico demonstrate the existence of the Paleoamerican morphological pattern in Mesoamerica. (submitted).

  7. Willey, G. R. An Introduction to American Archaeology (Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1966)

    Google Scholar 

  8. Rosales-López, A. & Fujita, H. La Antigua California Prehispánica: la Vida Costera en El Conchalito (INAH, México, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  9. Howells, W. W. Cranial Variation in Man (Papers of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Massachusetts, 1973)

    Google Scholar 

  10. Relethford, J. H. & Blangero, J. Detection of differential gene flow from patterns of quantitative variation. Hum. Biol. 62, 5–25 (1990)

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Relethford, J. H. & Harpending, H. C. Craniometric variation, genetic theory and modern human origins. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 95, 249–270 (1994)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Williams-Blangero, S. & Blangero, J. Anthropometric variation and the genetic structure of the Jirels of Nepal. Hum. Biol. 61, 1–12 (1989)

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Relethford, J. H., Crawford, M. H. & Blangero, J. Genetic drift and gene-flow in post famine Ireland. Hum. Biol. 69, 443–465 (1997)

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Bookstein, F. L. Principal warps—Thin-Plate Splines and the decomposition of deformations. Trans. Pat. Anal. Mac. Intel. 11, 567–585 (1989)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Goodall, C. R. Procrustes methods in the statistical analysis of shape. J. R. Stat. Soc. B. 53, 285–339 (1991)

    MathSciNet  MATH  Google Scholar 

  16. Rohlf, F. J. Shape statistics: Procrustes superimpositions and tangent spaces. J. Classif. 16, 197–223 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dryden, I. L. & Mardia, K. V. Statistical Shape Analysis (Wiley, Chichester, 1998)

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  18. Lahr, M. M. The Evolution of Modern Human Diversity. A Study of Cranial Variation (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1996)

    Google Scholar 

  19. Relethford, J. H. Apportionment of global human genetic diversity based on craniometrics and skin color. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 118, 393–398 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Sparks, C. S. & Jantz, R. L. A reassessment of human cranial plasticity: Boas revisited. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 99, 14636–14639 (2002)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. González-José, R., Van der Molen, S., González-Pérez, E. & Hernández, M. Patterns of phenotypic covariation and correlation in modern humans as viewed from morphological integration. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. (in the press)

  22. Bradley, R. S. Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary (Academic, San Diego, 1999)

    Google Scholar 

  23. Haberle, S. Late Quaternary vegetation and climate history of the Amazon Basin: correlating marine and terrestrial pollen records. Proc. Ocean Drilling Prog. Sci. Res. 155, 381–396 (1997)

    Google Scholar 

  24. Baker, P. A. et al. The history of South American Tropical precipitation for the past 25,000 years. Science 291, 640–643 (2001)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Grismer, L. Evolutionary biogeography on Mexico's Baja California peninsula: a synthesis of molecules and historical geology. Proc. Natl Acad Sci. USA 97, 14017–14018 (2000)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Riddle, B. R., Hafner, D. J., Alexander, L. F. & Jaeger, J. R. Cryptic vicariance in the historical assembly of a Baja California Peninsular desert biota. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97, 14438–14443 (2000)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Dixon, E. J. Human colonization of the Americas: timing, chronology and process. Quat. Sci. Rev. 20, 277–299 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Slice, D. E. Morpheus et al. software for morphometric research. Revision 01-30-98 (Department of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York, Stony Brook, 1998).

  29. Sheets, H. D. Integrated Morphometrics Package (Department of Geology, SUNY at Buffalo, New York, 2001).

  30. Howells, W. W. Skull Shapes and the Map (Papers of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Massachusetts, 1989)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank personnel and authorities of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia (México), and Musée de l'Homme (France) for their collaboration during the data acquisition. We thank P. Nepomnaschy, C. O'Connor, and J. Garrett for comments on the manuscript. We are also indebted to E. Ozolins who made available his data on Palaeoamerican series. This work was partially funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rolando González-José.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information


Supplementary Table and Figures: Further archaeological information in reference to the Baja California Sur skeletal materials. (PDF 1031 kb)


Supplementary Table and Figures: Illustrating the results of a Relative Warp Analysis performed on the BCS, TLAT, and PAL samples. (PDF 228 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

González-José, R., González-Martín, A., Hernández, M. et al. Craniometric evidence for Palaeoamerican survival in Baja California. Nature 425, 62–65 (2003).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing