The oldest human burial in Africa was a toddler laid to rest with a pillow

A toddler laid to rest with their head on a pillow in a cave in eastern Kenya is thought to be the oldest human burial ever found in Africa.

The remains of the child, who was between 2 ½ and 3 岁, date back 78,000 years and were found buried at the mouth of the Panga ya Saidi cave, according to new research published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Analysis of the cave sediment and the bones suggested that the burial was intentional and perhaps involved the child’s wider community in funeral rites, the authors of the study said, demonstrating that humans at that time were capable of symbolic thought and complex social behavior.
    The arrangement of the surviving bone fragments showed that the child was placed lying gently on their right side, with their legs folded and drawn up toward their chest. The researchers also believe that the tiny body was tightly wrapped in a shroud perhaps leaves or animal skinsand the head was supported by something made from a perishable material, possibly a pillow.
      孩子's burial was found at Panga ya Saidi cave in Kenya at the bottom of this trench.

      This type of movement of the head is usually found in those burials where the head is resting over a pillow or perishable supportthe moment that support disappears, disintegrates, decays, it creates a space below the head and because of gravity the head tilts,” said study author María Martinón-Torres, director at the National Research Center on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos, 西班牙.
        We could infer this childwas really put there in a specific position with a pillow under his head. This respect, this care, this tendernessputting a child lying in an almost a sleeping position: I really think it’s one of most importantthe earliest evidence in Africaof humans living in the physical and the symbolic world,” Martinón-Torres said in a news briefing.

        The importance of the find

          A view of the cave site of Panga ya Saidi in Kenya.

          While older burials by Neanderthals, archaic humans who disappeared around 40,000 几年前, and early Homo sapiens have been found in Europe and the Middle East dating back 120,000 年份, the child’s skeleton represents the earliest evidence of intentional burial in Africa.
          It’s not known why fewer burials have been found on the continent. It could be due to lack of fieldwork or differences in early mortuary practices, which can be hard to detect.
          Archaeologists have been very busy in the Near East and Europe for 150 年份, with continuous excavations. If the same amount of work happened in Africa, we might find more and older burials,” said Michael Petraglia, coauthor of the study and a professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
          Some of child’s bones were first found during excavations at Panga ya Saidi in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the skeleton of the child, who was later nicknamedMtoto,” meaning “儿童” in Swahili, was fully exposed.
          “这一点, we weren’t sure what we had found. The bones were just too delicate to study in the field,” said study co-author Emmanuel Ndiema of the National Museums of Kenya. “We had a find that we were pretty excited aboutbut it would be a while before we understood its importance.

          ‘Contentious areain archaeology

          Louise Humphrey, a researcher in human origins at the Centre for Human Evolution Research at the Natural History Museum in London, said that inferring signs of symbolic behavior from burials was acontentious areain archaeology, but she agreed the study revealed thatcare and efforthad been invested in the child’s burial.
          Picture above is a view of the articulated partial skeleton, and below that is an external view of the left side of the child's skull and jaw bone.

          Such actions include careful placement of the corpse in the grave to achieve a desired body position or orientation, the wrapping or binding of the body for reasons other than to aid transportation, or the deliberate incorporation of items of value in the grave,” Humphrey said in an article that accompanied the study. She wasn’t involved in the research.
          Understanding the treatment of the dead intersects with our understanding of social organization, symbolic behaviors and the use of landscape, resources and technology.
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            The researchers were able to deduce in a number of ways that the child’s body didn’t end up in the cave floor by happenstance.
            Excavating in the cave revealed that the grave was dug with sediment of different color and texture that could have only been a result ofintentional digging.The microscopic features of the bones, and the chemical composition of the soil that surrounded the bones, suggested that the body wasfreshwhen it was buried and decomposed in the grave.

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