Thanks to children's bones, which have rested for more than 78 thousand years in one of the caves of Kenya, scientists have finally managed to learn how the bodies of the dead in Africa were treated.
In the Kenyan cave Panga-ya-Saidi archaeologists have discovered a burial of 78, 3 thousand years old, dating back to the Middle Stone Age. According to scientists, this burial pit with skeletal remains can be called the oldest on the African continent found so far.
According to a study published today in the journal Nature, the first bone fragments were identified back in 2013, but only four years later, under the "floor" of Panga-ya-Saidi, at a depth of several meters, a round cavity was opened. Loose deposits and poorly preserved human bones rested in it. The remains were decided to be preserved and transported first to Nairobi, and then to the Spanish city of Burgos.
There, staff from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) restored bones, performed archeometry, digital mapping, three-dimensional analysis, computer microscopy and microtomography. “At first we didn't understand what we found. The bones were too fragile to be examined on site, said Emmanuel Ndima of the National Museums of Kenya, who participated in the study. “We were thrilled by the find and only after a while realized its significance.”
After analyzing the remains, it turned out that they belonged to a male child of Homo sapiens. At the time of his death, he was no more than three years old. The baby's jaw joints were intact, but some of the teeth had not yet formed. "The articulation of the spine and ribs has been preserved, as has the curvature of the chest," added the head of the study, paleoanthropologist Maria Martinon-Torres.
The boy's body lay for thousands of years in a bent position: on his right side, and his knees were pressed to his chest. As shown by microscopic analysis of the bones and surrounding soil, the child's corpse was placed in the ground and immediately buried. "Suggests that this was a deliberate burial: the decomposition of the body took place in the same cavity in which we found the bones," said Martinon-Torres. "The position of the head implies the use of a decayed support or pillow, which indicates the existence of some kind of funeral rite." Probably, the child was wrapped in a shroud or shroud: it is no longer possible to judge for sure, since fragments of tissue cannot be identified in densely rammed earth.
At the same level where the burial was found, stone tools from the African Mesolithic period were found. "The connection between the burial of this child and the tools of the Middle Stone Age played a crucial role in confirming that this is definitely Homo sapiens," the scientists explained.
Although Africa is considered the "cradle of humanity" - after all, it was there, according to experts, human culture and community appeared - not much early evidence of burials on this continent has been found. While the graves of Neanderthals and modern humans up to 120 thousand years old were discovered in Europe and Asia, what happened to the dead in Africa remained for the most part a mystery to scientists.