The Discovery of “Princess Naia”

Today, AIA is hosting a guest blogger – Rita Vasak, on the staff of Yes Prep where we presented a talk with Dr. Dominique Rissolo who spoke about the discovery of “Princess Naia”, America’s oldest teenager.

On Thursday, November 13, YES Prep Southeast was honored to host a presentation by Dr. Dominique Rissolo, of Scripts Institute of Oceanography, The Waitt Institute, and University of Southern California, San Diego. Dr Rissollo presented his team’s research on the exploration of an underwater cavern in the Yucatan, where the archaeologists and cave divers have discovered an amazing collection of skeletal remains of extinct mega fauna, and the skeleton of a 17 year old girl the team named “Naia”, the oldest human skeletal remains discovered in the Americas.


Our audience of about 175 students included both high school and middle school students. YES Prep Southeast’s demographic is around 95% Latino; it was a pleasure to be able to share research with our students that was not only an important part of the history of humanity, but a direct part of their own personal ancestry. Our textbooks and materials are so frequently focused on European history; this was an important step in helping our students to understand their own ancestors’’ role in prehistory. They were not only touched by the Story of Naia, they were thrilled by the daring and skill of the cave divers, with several staying behind to ask Dr. Rissolo about the training required to be a scientific technical diver. One young woman said to Dr. Rissolo, “Excuse me for being blunt, but this is the first time anything in school has ever really interested me. How can I learn more about this?”

After the event, we gave an assignment to the freshman and sophomore students in attendance: Write a letter to Naia and share with her how your worlds are different, and how they are the same. Rather than try to interpret my students’ reactions to Dr. Rissollo’s work, I thought I would instead share a few excerpts from several of their assignments. Their words tell the story far more effectively.

“I think you are somewhat related to me because my whole family is from Mexico and maybe some of my past ancestors were related to you.”

“I heard you might be my ancestor, maybe my cousin. I enjoy learning about you because they say you are 17,000 years old or something like that and it’s really cool.”

“We always learn about prehistoric times I social studies classes but never have I ever discovered a story so exciting and amazing. I can’t wait… to discover more about your time and share it with the world.”

“The impact you have had on us is very big! History in text books is now being changed!”

“What your time calls sticks and stones to build resources, we call technology.”

“There are now paleo diets used today. They are like the diets y’all used to have… thank you for all you guys have taught us, Naia!”

“Due to your great tenacity and the fact that you were very inquisitive I could tell you were one of the best hunter gatherers of your tribe….I bet you were really happy living in this challenging environment where each day was something new happening.”

“I miss you. Your cousin, Alissa.”


This event connected students in such a personal way to their own deep ancestry. As you can see, the remarks from the students convey the longing that all of us feel for a connection with our ancestry and our heritage. This series of events with Dr. Rissolo helped young people better understand their place in the world and their connection to time.

-Rita Vasak, YES Prep Southeast