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Title: Earliest known human burial in Africa
Authors: Martinón-Torres, María
D'Errico, Francesco
Santos, Elena
Álvaro Gallo, Ana
Amano, Noel
Archer, William
Armitage, Simon J.
Arsuaga, Juan Luis
Bermúdez de Castro, José María
Blinkhorn, James Alexander
Crowther, Alison
Douka, Katerina
Dubernet, Stéphan
Faulkner, Patrick ‎
Fernández Colón, Pilar
Kourampas, Nikos
González García, Jorge
Larreina, David
Le Bourdonnec, François-Xavier
MacLeod, George
Martín-Francés, Laura
Massilani, Diyendo
Mercader, Julio
Miller, Jennifer M.
Ndiema, Emmanuel
Notario Collado, Belén
Pitarch Martí, Africa
Prendergast, Mary E.
Queffelec, Alain
Rigaud, Solange
Roberts, Patrick
Javad Shoaee, Mohammad
Shipton, Ceri
Simpson, Ian
Boivin, Nicole
Petraglia, Michael D.
Keywords: Archaeology;Biological anthropology;Palaeontology
Issue Date: May-2021
Publisher: Nature Research
Citation: Nature, 2021, 593, 95-100
Abstract: The origin and evolution of hominin mortuary practices are topics of intense interest and debate. Human burials dated to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) are exceedingly rare in Africa and unknown in East Africa. Here we describe the partial skeleton of a roughly 2.5- to 3.0-year-old child dating to 78.3 ± 4.1 thousand years ago, which was recovered in the MSA layers of Panga ya Saidi (PYS), a cave site in the tropical upland coast of Kenya. Recent excavations have revealed a pit feature containing a child in a flexed position. Geochemical, granulometric and micromorphological analyses of the burial pit content and encasing archaeological layers indicate that the pit was deliberately excavated. Taphonomical evidence, such as the strict articulation or good anatomical association of the skeletal elements and histological evidence of putrefaction, support the in-place decomposition of the fresh body. The presence of little or no displacement of the unstable joints during decomposition points to an interment in a filled space (grave earth), making the PYS finding the oldest known human burial in Africa. The morphological assessment of the partial skeleton is consistent with its assignment to Homo sapiens, although the preservation of some primitive features in the dentition supports increasing evidence for non-gradual assembly of modern traits during the emergence of our species. The PYS burial sheds light on how MSA populations interacted with the dead.
ISSN: 0028-0836
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03457-8
Editor version:
Type: Article
Appears in Collections:Arqueometría
Colecciones, Conservación y Restauración
Microscopía y Microtomografía Computarizada

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