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Earliest Known Human Burial in Africa Analyzed

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Africa Mtoto RemainsJENA, GERMANY—Researchers have found the oldest burial of a modern human in Africa, according to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. First exposed in 2013, the remains of a two-and-a-half to three-year-old child were interred about 78,000 years ago in a circular pit at the entrance to Kenya's Panga ya Saidi cave. Because the bones had so heavily decomposed, archaeologists removed and transported the entire block of soil containing the burial in 2017 to the laboratories of Spain's National Research Center for Human Evolution (CENIEH) for further excavation and analysis. Through microscopic analysis of the bones and sediment, they discovered that the body had decayed in the pit, which indicates that the child was deliberately buried shortly after death. CENIEH director María Martinón-Torres said that the body's positioning, with the child interred on its right side with the knees pulled into the chest, suggests that the body had been tightly wrapped for burial. To read about the 300,000-year-old remains of modern humans uncovered in Morocco, go to "Homo sapiens, Earlier Still," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.

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