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Ancient Human Remains Found in the Americas

Updated on August 14, 2019
Marla Watson profile image

Marla is a self-employed entrepreneur, a tinkerer, and classic over-thinker.

The Peopling of the Americas

Beringian coast line at the peak of the last Ice Age
Beringian coast line at the peak of the last Ice Age | Source

It is generally accepted that early hunter gatherers first entered the Americas around 10,000 - 14,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. They entered by way of a land bridge, Beringia or the Bering Strait Land Bridge, that formed between Alaska and Russia. Sea levels were significantly lower at this time because ice sheets and glaciers were at their greatest extent. As the Ice Age ended and glaciers melted, the land bridge was reclaimed by the sea thereby eliminating the possibility of intercontinental travel on foot.

The way people arrived in the New World is generally agreed upon, but that's about where the consensus ends. Everything else about the peopling of Americas really remains unconfirmed and contested, with new evidence being brought to light all the time.

For many years, scientists and archaeologists thought that the Clovis culture was the first to settle here. Clovis is a site in New Mexico that provided evidence of the oldest known culture for a long time. Discoveries in recent years continue to challenge the idea that the Clovis were the first people in America.

As a personal project, I am attempting to create a timeline of archaeological discoveries based on the information that is available now. For now, I am only focusing on sites where actual human remains have been found. There are lots of websites dedicated to mystical races and rumored finds that don't fit into the archaeological record, but in good conscience I can't include them here because many of those claims are impossible to verify.

This will always be a work in progress as new discoveries and research become available. I'll do my best to keep it updated, but feel free to leave a comment if you notice any important omissions or errors. At the bottom of this article, I have also included important historical and geological dates as a frame of reference.

Approximate map of ice sheets and exposed land during last glacial maximum around 21, 500 years ago
Approximate map of ice sheets and exposed land during last glacial maximum around 21, 500 years ago

Tepexpan Man

Tenochtitlan Map, 1524
Tenochtitlan Map, 1524 | Source

Age: 4,700 - 9,500 Years Old
Location: Lake Texcoco, Mexico

Tepexpan Man was discovered in 1947 on the shores of former Lake Texcoco in Central Mexico. Lake Texcoco was a natural lake and was famously known for where the Aztecs built the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. The lake was drained in an effort to control flooding and much of Mexico City was actually built in the lake's basin.

The remains were found face down in sediment and alluvial deposits that were 8,000 - 10,000 years old. It is believed he may have been deposited in the lake and sunk down into the mud. He was found near the remains of 5 mammoths as well as the remains of obsidian flake spear points, which may indicate that he died during a hunting expedition.

Radiocarbon dating methods estimated the remains to be about 2,000 years old. Contamination of the skeleton skewed radiocarbon dates and later isotope analysis revealed he was actually 4,700 years old.

It is generally believed that mammoths mostly died off around 10,000 years ago, but there were actually small populations of mammoths up until around 3,500 years ago. It would be interesting to know how old the mammoth bones were to in fact determine if Tepexpan Man may have been associated in any way.



Lucy Islands Woman

Source

Age: 5,500 - 6,075 Years Old
Location: The Lucy Islands - British Columbia, Canada

A winter storm in 1984 felled two trees that grew above an ancient shell midden. When the trees fell, they exposed the remains of a small child, a young adult female, and an older male. Through cooperation with local native tribes, the young adult female was dated to be approximately 5,500 and 6,075 years old. Her DNA was also sequenced and revealed that a local Tsimshian woman from the Metlakatla First Nation was a living descendant! This discovery was also significant because it was connected to remains found at nearby Digby Island.

I really like this story because it is a great example of what can happen when scientists and tribal councils can work together toward a common goal, which can only be achieved through mutual respect. Most discoveries like these end up ensnared in a long legal battle, but the research ended with a feeling a good will between the scientists and the First Nations. In 2008, the remains were returned to the First Nationas and given a proper burial ceremony.

Lansing Man

Lansing, Kansas
Lansing, Kansas | Source

Age: 5,600 Years Old
Location: Lansing, Kansas

In 1902, Martin Concannon was digging a cellar on the silty banks of the Missouri River when he discovered a collection of bones. The human remains consisted of a skull and several large bones from an adult male and the mandible of a child.

Dating the remains was difficult to do for a long time because the bones were found beneath 20 feet of undisturbed sedimentary deposits. The geological strata where the remains lay could have been anywhere from 10,000 to 35,000 years old, which actually predates the last ice age. The skull was also identical to Native Americans that previously inhabited that region of the state.

Since the remains were identical to modern Native American features, the remains were dismissed by archaeologists. It was highly improbable that the bones would not have underwent several evolutionary changes if they predated the last ice age.

Technology improved over time and in the 1970's, the Lansing bones were carbon dated at multiple laboratories. On average, the bones were determined to be from around 3579 BC, which would make the bones around 5,600 years old.

Currently, the bones belong to a curator at the Kansas City Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.


Minnesota Woman

Minnesota Woman - Pelican Rapids, Minnestoa
Minnesota Woman - Pelican Rapids, Minnestoa

Age: 8,000 Years Old
Location: Pelican Rapids, Minnesota

Minnesota Woman was found during the construction of US Route 59 on June 13, 1931. She was identified as a 15-16 year old girl that had not yet given birth. In her possession was a small dagger and a conch shell pendant. The conch shell she wore was of a species previously only known to exist in Florida.

The site was not properly evaluated by archaeologists at the time so many details about her death and burial remain a mystery. She was; however, discovered under a layer of broken clams and shells. It is believed that she may have drowned and fallen to the bottom of a glacial lake that existed at the time.

Her remains were reburied by Sioux Tribes in South Dakota on October 2, 1999.

Brooks Falls Remains

Brooks Falls, Alaska
Brooks Falls, Alaska

Age: 9,000 Years Old
Location: Brooks Falls, Alaska

Brooks Falls is a waterfall located within the boundary of the Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska. The Falls are famous for leaping salmon and Grizzly Bear sightings during the salmon spawning season.

Ancient human remains have been discovered here, but exact details are not known. The remains were dated to be around 9,000 years old and were located not far from where the Bering Land Bridge would have been during the last ice age.

Kennewick Man

Kennewick Man - Washington State
Kennewick Man - Washington State

Age: 9,000 Years Old
Location: Kennewick, Washington

Kennewick Man was found on the bank of the Columbia River by 2 college students in 1996. This was an extremely important find because it was one of the most complete ancient skeletons ever found. The remains were dated to be around 8,900 - 9,000 years old, which made him an incredibly important archaeological find.

After a very long and contemptuous legal battle, Kennewick Man was finally returned to the local Native American tribes and given a proper burial on February 18, 2017.

A cast of the skull can be seen on display at the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.

Trail Creek Caves

Bering Land Bridge National Preserve - Alaska
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve - Alaska

Age: 9,000 Years Old
Location: Bering Land Bridge Natural Preserve, Alaska

The Trail Creek Caves are a system of caves located on the Seward Peninsula in a remote area of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. The Preserve exists to protect a remnant of the Beringian Land Bridge that is now mostly underwater. The caves were discovered in 1928 and were later excavated in 1948-1950. Stone tools and artifacts were mostly what was recovered here, but a human tooth was found that was dated in 2018. The tooth was determined to be from a small child and was dated to be around 9,000 years old.

Wizard's Beach Man

Wizard's Beach Man - Pyramid Lake, Nevada
Wizard's Beach Man - Pyramid Lake, Nevada

Age: 9,200 Years Old
Location: Pyramid Lake, Nevada

Wizard's Beach Man was discovered in 1978 on the beach of Pyramid Lake around 40 miles Northwest of Reno, Nevada. Pyramid Lake is fed by the Truckee River, which is mainly the outflow from Lake Tahoe.

The remains found here actually belonged to at least 2 individuals that lived several thousand years apart. Wizard's Beach Man was dated to be around 9,200 - 9,500 years old, while the other remains were approximately 5,905. Both skeletons are believed to be male, but critical bones are missing in order to make that determination more confidently. He is believed to be somewhere between 20 and 42 years of age, though the wear on his teeth indicate he was likely on the older part of the estimate.

I have been unable to verify where the current whereabouts of the remains. It doesn't appear that they are on display in any museum at this time.


La Jolla Complex

La Jolla Skeletons - Baja, California
La Jolla Skeletons - Baja, California

Age: 9,500 Years Old
Location: Baja, California

In 1976, two human skeletons were discovered at a residential construction site. The remains are known as the La Jolla Skeletons or the La Jolla Complex. The remains were dated to be around 9,500 years old. The male was found to be in his 20's when he died and the female was in her 30's when she died. Both individuals subsisted on a marine diet year round, which likely indicates that they lived on the coast and did not live on the interior of the state.

After a long legal battle about the ownership of the remains, the La Jolla Skeletons were eventually returned to local Native American tribes for reburial in 2016.

Tlapacoya

Tlapcoya 1847 Map
Tlapcoya 1847 Map | Source

Age: 9,700 Years Old
Location: (Former) Lake Chalco, Mexico

Lake Chalco was one of many natural lakes in the Valley of Mexico that was drained to alleviate flooding and enable expansion. These lakes were home to many early Mexican cultures such as the Toltecs and Aztecs. Tlapacoya is an archaeological hot spot and many artifacts and remains have been recovered from there.

The oldest confirmed human remains date to around 9,730 years old. It is interesting to note that animal bones found in the middens and hearths of ancient homes have been dated to around 22,000 - 25,000 years old. An obsidian blade was also found under a tree trunk and was dated to be around 24,000 years old. If the dates are accurate on those artifacts, then the history books will absolutely need to be rewritten!

On Your Knees Cave

Cast of mandible found in cave
Cast of mandible found in cave | Source

Age: 9,800 Years Old
Location: Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

The site was initially discovered in 1993 within the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska. Human remains found at the site date to around 9,800 years old! Stone tools and animal bones were also present at the site and DNA analysis concluded that the individual had a marine based diet.

DNA analysis also revealed that the remains had the presence of mitochondrial haplogroup D, which is very prevalent on the west coast of America today. Currently, this is the oldest known sample of the haplogroup. The remains were eventually determined to be a male, in his late 20's or early 30's.

Local tribes worked closely with scientists and archaeologists over the course of 12 years. When the study concluded, the remains were repatriated to the Tlingit people for a reburial and celebration festival.

Tuqan Man

San Miguel Island in the Channel Islands of California
San Miguel Island in the Channel Islands of California

Age: 9,800 - 10,200 Years Old
Location: San Miguel Island, California

The remains of Tuqan Man were discovered due to beach erosion on San Miguel Island in the Channel Islands of California. He was excavated and preserved in 2005 by archaeologists with the University of Oregon. Radio carbon dating estimated that his skeleton was between 9,800 and 10,200 years old.

Further analysis indicates that he was in his 40's when he died and actually spent some time in the area that is now Santa Barbara. His remains were returned to local native American tribes for reburial. At this time, it appears that attempts to extract DNA was unsuccessful.


Marmes Rockshelter

Marmes Rockshelter
Marmes Rockshelter | Source

Age: 10,000 Years Old
Location: Franklin County, Washington

The Marmes Rockshelter archaeological site was first discovered in 1962 at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse rivers in southeast Washington state. In 1969, a nearby levee broke and unfortunately flooded the site. The flood actually submerged several archaeological sites and is now known as Lake Herbert G. West.

As flood waters rose, archaeologists scrambled to recover as many artifacts as possible. Thousands of specimens were unearthed, including a 10,000 cremation hearth that contained the remains of at least 38 individuals. A wealth of weapons, grave goods, and other ancient refuse were uncovered before archaeologists had to abandon the site.

Paijan Culture

Relevant archaeological sites on Peru's northern coast
Relevant archaeological sites on Peru's northern coast | Source

Age: 10,200 Years Old
Location: Peru (Northern Coast)

The Paijan culture is known to have inhabited the northern coast of Peru around 8,000 years ago. Research on the site began in the 1940's. In 1975, the remains of a 12-13 year old girl were found and dated to be around 10,200 years old.

Upward Sun River Site

Map of where remains were found
Map of where remains were found | Source

Age: 11,500 Years Old
Location: Tanana River Valley, Alaska

The Upward Sun River Site was first discovered in 2006 and was dated to around 11,500 years old. This site is significant because it is the oldest site on the American side of Beringia and is closely related to remains found at a site on the Russian side of Beringia.

In 2010, the cremated remains of a 3 year old individual were found at the site but researchers were unable to recover any DNA. In 2013, the remains of 2 more infant individuals were found directly underneath the area were the original cremated remains were found.

One of the individuals was determined to be a stillborn baby and the other one was only 6-12 weeks old. Both individuals were female. The prenatal remains are actually the youngest Late Pleistocene remains ever found. All three children died during the summer. The individuals were related, but were not siblings. They may have been half siblings or cousins.

Based on the findings found here as well as another found nearby, scientists are now considering Ancient Beringian as a specific archaeogenetic lineage. The lineage is now extinct and has not been found in any modern lineages in the area, which makes this site an incredibly important piece of our evolutionary puzzle.

Leanderthal Lady

Leanderthal Lady as she was found
Leanderthal Lady as she was found | Source

Age: 10,000 - 13,000
Location: Cedar Park, Texas

Leanderthal Lady, also known as Leanne, was discovered in the early 1980's in Cedar Park, Texas. Through carbon dating and stratigraphic analysis of the area in which she was found, it was determined that she was around 10,000 - 13,000 years old. It was determined that she was around 5'3 and that she was between 18 and 30 years old when she died. Leanderthal Lady is an incredibly important find because she is one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in the United States.

Leanne currently presides at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at the Austin Campus of the University of Texas.

La Brea Woman

La Brea Woman Facial Reconstruction
La Brea Woman Facial Reconstruction

Age: 10, 250 Years Old
Location: La Brea Tar Pits, California

La Brea Woman was discovered in 1914 and is the only prehistoric human remains found in the La Brea tar pits. She was approximately 18-24 years old when she died and only stood at 4 feet 8 inches tall. She is believed to be a descendant of the Chumash Indians, which inhabited much of the southern California's coastal regions.


Spirit Cave Mummy

Spirit Cave near Fallon, Nevada
Spirit Cave near Fallon, Nevada

Age: 10,600 Years Old
Location: Falllon, Nevada

The Spirit Cave Mummy has the special distinction of being the oldest human mummy found in the United States. He was male and was around 40 when he died. His remains were discovered in 1940 by a husband and wife team of archaeologists, Sydney and Georgia Wheeler. The Wheelers discovered 2 bodies in the cave that were wrapped in tule matting; one buried deeper than the other and was partially mummified. 67 artifacts were recovered from the cage and were kept in storage for more than 50 years.

In 1996, the remains were tested using mass spectrometry and discovered to be around 10,600 years old! DNA samples were taken before the remains were repatriated to the local tribes for proper burial. The DNA extracted went on to be used in important anthropological research that attempts to map the complex movements of early human settlers in the Americas.

Buhl Woman

Buhl Woman
Buhl Woman

Age: 11,000 Years Old
Location: Buhl, Idaho

The remains of Buhl Woman were found at a quarry site in 1989. She was determined to be around 17-21 years old and 5 feet 2 inches tall. Her remains were reburied by local tribes a few years later.

Sadly, not much more information has been made public about Buhl Woman and the area where the remains were unearthed.

Piedra Museo

Piedra Museo
Piedra Museo

Age: 11,000 Years Old
Location: Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

Piedrda Museo is an ancient rock shelter complex that was discovered in 1910 in Argentina. It wasn't until 1995 that human remains found there were discovered to be 11,000 years old! Other interesting finds included a man made spear that contained traces of hippidions and mylodons; animals that have been extinct since for approximately 12,000 years.

Luzia Woman

Luzia Woman
Luzia Woman

Age: 11,243 - 11,710 Years Old
Location: Lapa Vermelha, Brazil

Luzia was discovered in an ancient rock shelter in 1974. She was in her early 20's when she died and no other human remains were found nearby. She was approximately 5 feet tall and appears to have died in some sort of attack or animal accident. Luzia was on display in the National Museum until it burned in September 2018. Some of her bones were recovered from the fire but have not yet been reassembled for display.

Luzia is unique in that her skull and bone structure do not match the people that were known to the area at the time. Even though skull shapes are notoriously unreliable, some researchers still believed that her features were much more similar to African Amerian or Australian Aboriginal peoples. Through DNA analysis, it was eventually proven that she was indeed an early American Indian and not of African or Australian descent.


Moaning Cavern

Moaning Cavern, California
Moaning Cavern, California | Source

Age: 12,000 Years Old
Location: Vallecito, California

To put it bluntly, Moaning Cavern has a bit of a reputation. If the spooky noises coming from the cave weren't enough, it's absolutely full of human and animal bones! The site has obviously been a death trap for thousands of years and little is known about how and why so many bones ended up there. In fact, much of the cavern is still largely unexplored. The oldest confirmed human remains from the site are around 12,000 years old based on the depth of mineral deposits covering the bones.

Moaning Cavern has been the source of much controversy, folklore, and intrigue over the years. While local Native American tribes knew about the cavern for thousands of years, the first modern record dates back to 1851 when it was discovered by miners.

In 1866, miners pulled an infamous practical joke on a the California State Geologist, Josiah Whitney by planting fake skeletal remains that came to be known as Calaveras Man. Because of the Calaveras Hoax, most modern expeditions in this cave system are met with a healthy dose of skepticism.

It was not until 1921 that a curious and determined local Villecito resident really started exploring the cavern and opening it up to other explorers. Today, Moaning Cavern is a popular tourism destination. I would definitely like to more about the bones that have been discovered in the cave, but am having difficulty finding credible sources.

Naia

Naia's skeleton was found deep in an underwater cave
Naia's skeleton was found deep in an underwater cave

Age: 12,000 - 13,000 Years Old
Location: Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Naia's bone were discovered in an underwater cave system in 2007 by cave divers. At the time of her death 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, the cave system was dry and she most likely fell to her death. There are thousands of prehistoric animal bones in the same cave, which suggests many species of animals fell to their death just as she did over the millennia.

Naia was a teenager when she died, around the age of 15-17, and her bones revealed that she suffered from hunger at different periods in her life. Pitting in her pelvis indicated that she most likely gave birth well before her death. She was rail skinny with muscular legs, which indicates that she roamed far and wide in search of food and was not always successful.

Naia's discovery is a fascinating one and can be seen in the documentary "NOVA: First Face of America". It is currently available on many streaming television services.

Penon Woman

Former Lake Texcoco, 1519
Former Lake Texcoco, 1519

Age: 12,705 - 13,000 Years Old
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

Similar to Tepexpan man, Penon Woman was found on the same ancient shores of Lake Texcoco near Mexico City. She was discovered in 1959 and remains one of the oldest skeletons discovered in the Americas. Penon Woman was in her late 20's when she died.

Anzick Clovis Culture

Early Clovis and Folsom Cultural Influences
Early Clovis and Folsom Cultural Influences | Source

Age: 13,000 Years Old
Location: Clovis, New Mexico

For many years, the Clovis site in New Mexico was the barometer by which all New World archaeological finds were measured against. The site was excavated throughout the 1920's and 30's and was thought to be the first human settlement in the Americas. Modern discoveries definitely challenge the Clovis First theory, but that doesn't diminish its importance.

The Clovis people are well known for their distinctive craftsmanship of stone and ivory tools. The only human burial known to be associated with this Clovis is an infant boy buried 12,600 years ago. (I believe his remains were actually found in Montana.) Analysis of his DNA confirms that the Clovis people are direct ancestors to more than 80% of the Native American populations in North and South America.

Clovis tribes were big game hunters and hunted mammoth, bison, mastadon, gomphotheres, sloths, tapir, and a variety of other large extinct animals. It is theorized that the culture started to change and expand due to the limited availability of megafauna, which could have possibly been due to over hunting.

Arlington Springs Man

Site where Arlington Springs Man was found
Site where Arlington Springs Man was found | Source

Age: 13,000 Years Old
Location: Santa Rosa Island, California

Arlington Springs Man is another archaeological find from the Channel Islands in Southern California. 2 femora bones were discovered in the 1950's and for a long time, the bones were thought to belong to a female. It was not until 2006 that gender was reassessed to conclude that the bones most likely came from a male.

There are several archaeological discoveries originating in the Channel Islands, some of which have already been covered on this list. It's interesting to note that the sea level was much lower back then and 4 of the northernmost Channel Islands was one large island off the coast of Santa Rosa back then. The Channel Islands discoveries (as well as any discoveries along the Pacific Coastline) provides credence to the fact that there may have been seafaring routes from Beringia down to South America.

Eve of Naharon

Eve of Naharon facial reconstruction
Eve of Naharon facial reconstruction | Source

Age: 13,600
Location: Tulum, Mexico (80 miles southwest of Cancun)

During an 2004-2008 excavation of an underwater cave system near Tulum, Mexico, the skeletal remains of a 25-30 year old woman were found. The remains were carbon dated to be around 13,600 years old, which makes her one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas. Other human bones were also found in the cave system, dated between 11,000 and 14,000 years old!

Eve was only around 4 feet 7 inches tall and lived a hunter-gatherer existence. During the time she lived, the cave system where she was buried would have been on dry land. As sea levels rose over the millennia after the last ice age, salt water flooded the caves. Some researchers believe that the salt water may have affected the Carbon 14 dating and there are still a lot of unanswered questions about her origins, which are still actively being studied.


Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves, Oregon
Paisley Caves, Oregon | Source

Age: 14,300 Years Old
Location: Paisley, Oregon

Paisley Caves consists of a small 4 cave system in arid south central Oregon near Paisley, Oregon. Currently, the caves are located in the basin of Summer Lake, which is a shallow alkali lake that is only around 15 miles long and 5 miles wide at high water.

Thousands of years ago; however, the area was much more lush and Summer Lake was known as Lake Chewaucan. Lake Chewaucan covered 461 square miles and was around 375 feet deep. Paisley Caves captures evidence of human settlement along Lake Chewaucan around 14,000 years ago.

The site was first discovered by renowned field archaeologist Luther Cressman in the 1930's. Field students from the University of Oregon have been excavating the site since 2002 have uncovered significant new discoveries. DNA evidence uncovered from the site doesn't come from bones, but from subfossil human coprolites, which is fossilized human feces. Stone tools have also been found in the cave as well as fossilized animal coprolites. Due to the advanced age and location of these discoveries, more testing is required before any concrete conclusions can be made.

Human History Period References

Paleolithic Period
Time Span (Years Ago)
Note
Lower Paleolithic
3.3 million - 300,000
Emergence of archaic human species
Middle Paleolithic
50,000 - 10,000
Emergence of anatomically modern human species; coexists with archaic species
Upper Paleolithic
50,000 - 10,000
Worldwide expansion of modern human species. Archaic species become extinct.
The Paleolithic Period a.k.a. "The Stone Age".

Geological Time References

Geological Time References
Years Ago
Note
Late Pleistocene
126,000 - 11.700
a.k.a. "The Ice Age". Period of repeated glaciations.
Holocene
11,650 - Present
Signals the end of the Pleistocene. Glaciers retreat and sea levels rise.
Last Glacial Maximum
21,500
Time period when global ice sheets were at their greatest extent.
Younger Dryas
12,900 - 11,700
A period of rapid cooling at the end of the Pleistocene. It followed a dramatic warming period and appeared suddenly. It lasted for about 1,300 years and disappeared suddenly. The effects were far reaching and complex.
Beringia
16,500 - 11,000
The approximate time frame that the Beringia Land Bridge may have been exposed.

References

Elias, Scott. "Beringia: Lost World of the Ice Age" National Park Service, US Dept. of the Interior.

"The Lake’s Specter: Water and the History of Mexico City" The Metropole Urban History Association.

Preston, Douglas. "The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets." Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution.

Judd, Ron. "Site unseen: Floodwaters buried a treasure trove at Marmes Rockshelter" Seattle Times

Wikipedia contributors. "Lake Abert (Ancient Lake Chewaucan)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jul. 2019. Web. 14 Aug. 2019.


© 2019 Marla Watson

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