- Victoria Gill
- BBC Science Editor
Researchers have uncovered signs of human mourning over the loss of a child about 78,000 years ago, following the discovery of the oldest burial site in Africa.
The Mesolithic tomb of a three-year-old boy was discovered in a cave in Kenya.
In a paper in the scientific journal Nature, the researchers who studied fragile ancient remains described how the little boy’s head appeared to be placed on a pillow.
Scientists named the child Mitoto, which means “child” in Swahili.
An international team of archaeologists carefully placed the entire grave inside a plaster cast in order to preserve the arrangement of the remaining bone fragments. This enabled them to safely transport the remains to the laboratory for detailed examination.
“It was like digging out of an imagination,” said Maria Martinon Torres, director of the National Research Center for Human Evolution in Spain.
She told the BBC Inside Science program:[عندما حركنا الجبيرة]We didn’t know we were carrying a baby in our arms. “
The researchers were able to study the teeth to confirm that the remains discovered belonged to a young child, between two and three years. The scans revealed that the body had been placed in the position of a fetus.
The bones moved in such a way that they were tightly wrapped when buried, and their head was originally resting on what looked like a pillow of tree leaves that subsequently disintegrated.
Professor Martinon Torres explained: “We believe that the child was wrapped in a shroud made of tree leaves or animal skins – as he was placed in his last sleep.”
“The manner of his burial was characterized by delicacy and care, which truly expresses the group’s feelings towards this child,” he added.
Further examination of the size and shape of the bone fragments concluded the researchers’ conclusion that Mitoto was most likely a boy.
Professor Martinon Torres said: “He was buried in the cave, where people used to live.” “All this behavior meant something, maybe sadness, and maybe a desire to stick to it.”
Africa is considered the cradle of human modernity, but amid all evidence of early use of tools and community life, scientists say that burials were an important missing part of the story of human evolution there.
Dr. Louise Humphrey of the Natural History Museum in London said, “The oldest succeeding tomb in Africa is about 74,000 years old.”
She added, “Interestingly it was also of a young child, but it was poorly excavated about 50 years ago, so we don’t know much about it.”
“There is definitely an indication of a feeling of personal loss,” she said. “It’s evidence of people who have a more symbolic representation of the world around them.”