A team of researchers on Wednesday announced that they have uncovered Africa’s oldest human burial site in Kenya.
The site has a child no older than three laid to rest sideways in an earthen grave 78,000 years ago.
The child’s legs were carefully tucked up against its tiny chest, signalling the earliest known human burial on the continent.
The scientists say the sunken pit was discovered in a cave complex along the coast of Kenya.
Ornaments, offerings or ochre-coloured clay carvings were found in the region’s more recent Stone Age graves.
In the journal Nature, the lead author Maria Martinon-Torres, director of the National Research Centre on Human Evolution, in Burgos, Spain wrote that “Mtoto” — Swahili for “child” — had been wrapped in a shroud with her or his head resting on what was probably a pillow, “indicating that the community may have undertaken some form of funerary rite”.
The scientists said fragments of the child’s bones were dug up at the Panga ya Saidi caves in 201.
It wasn’t until five years later that the shallow, circular grave — three metres below the cave floor — was fully exposed, revealing a tight cluster and decomposed bones.
“At this point, we weren’t sure what we had found,” said Emmanuel Ndiema of the National Museum of Kenya. “The bones were just too delicate to study in the field.”
Archaeologists had stabilised and plastered them into a bundle and transported them, first to the museum and then to the research centre in Spain.
“We started uncovering parts of the skull and face,” Martinon-Torres said.
“The articulation of the spine and the ribs was also astonishingly well preserved, even conserving the curvature of the thorax cage.”
The extraordinary find according to the researchers highlights the emergence of both complex social behaviour among Homo sapiens, and cultural differences across populations of modern humans in Africa and beyond.
Homo sapiens originated in Africa, but little is known about mortuary practices on the continent compared to Europe and the Middle East, where even older human burial sites have been unearthed, including one in Israel thought to be 120,000 years old.
Source: Africafeeds.com (additional material from AFP)