The partial skeleton of the child, who was roughly 3 years old, was found in the remnants of an ancient house -- in itself another virtually unprecedented discovery. Archaeologists have found plenty of hunting camps from this time period, but few formal living quarters.
The new findings are "unique in many ways," Scott Elias, a University of professor and an expert on human history in the far north who was not associated with the new research, told AOL News. The number of ancient burial sites found in the Americas is "virtually zero," he said, and this one "is definitely the oldest burial I can think of from any site in the New World."
The dig site will open a window into the first migration of humans to the New World. Scientists were intrigued, for instance, by the similarities between the new artifacts and those at an ancient Siberian village. Those links bolster the theory that the colonizers crossed from Siberia to Alaska via a now-vanished land bridge, Elias said.
The excavations were led by archaeologist Ben Potter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Scientists from that school and the University of , Tucson, took part in the dig.
Many mysteries remain, among them the child's gender and cause of death. The child's teeth hint at a genetic kinship to northeast Asians and Native Americans. Native Americans now living near the dig site christened the dead youngster Xaasaa Cheege Ts'eniin, or Upward Sun River Mouth Child, after a nearby place name in the local Athabaskan language.
Scientists hope to test the child's for further clues. They also plan to complete excavation of the house, which was used as a summer cabin by women and children and perhaps by men as well.
What's been found of the house so far is "really awesome," said Potter. Only six other houses of early migrants have been found in North America, he said.
Despite their excitement over the find, the scientists couldn't forget that the site marked a human tragedy.
"This was a living, breathing human being who died," said Potter, who has children about the same age as the Upward Sun River Mouth Child. "We endeavor to treat the child with respect."