October 1, 2018  (Web Review)

First Face of America

(2018) 60 min. DVD: $24.99 ($54.99 w/PPR). PBS Video (www.teacher.shop.pbs.org). SDH captioned. ISBN: 978-1-5317-0432-2.

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Thirteen thousand years ago, a teenage girl entered a huge pit on what is now the Yucatan peninsula, possibly in search of water. She never emerged. In recent years, divers discovered her skeleton in the now water-filled caves, which was surrounded by the remains of ancient plants and the bones of extinct animals. Experts studying her bones became convinced that she represented one of the earliest surviving examples of humans in the new, unpopulated continent of North America. Filmmaker Graham Townsley’s PBS-aired NOVA documentary tells the story of “Naia” (as she is called), the unlucky victim of a probable fall, whose discovery triggers a delicate, labor-intensive effort to remove, protect, and transport her bones to a lab for analysis. Scientists believe that Naia was in her mid-teens, possibly pregnant, and likely malnourished. She had healed bone fractures indicative of a hard life and was probably the object of male aggression and abuse, caused by competition for females. Naia led a nomadic life, with her ancestors having likely crossed the Bering land bridge near modern day Alaska during a dry period, and then migrating south. Scientists here use radiocarbon dating and facial reconstruction to create a portrait of Naia, noting similarities and differences between other tribes of early humans and contemporary Native Americans. Using a specific case study to help illuminate the prehistorical big picture, this is highly recommended. Aud: H, C, P. (S. Rees)