Title

Earliest Known Human Burial in Africa

Authors

María Martinón-Torres, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
Francesco d’Errico, Université Bordeaux
Elena Santos, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid
Ana Álvaro Gallo, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
Noel Amano, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
William Archer, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, National Museum, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Simon J. Armitage, University of London
Juan Luis Arsuaga, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid
José María Castro, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
James Blinkhorn, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Alison Crowther, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Katerina Douka, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Stéphan Dubernet, Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Patrick Faulkner, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Pilar Fernández-Colón, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
Nikos Kourampas, University of Edinburgh
Jorge González García, University of South FloridaFollow
David Larreina, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
François-Xavier Le Bourdonnec, Université Bordeaux Montaigne
George MacLeod, University of Stirling
Laura Martín-Francés, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
Diyendo Massilani, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Julio Mercader, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Jennifer M. Miller, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Emmanuel Ndiema, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Belén Notario, CENIEH (National Research Center on Human Evolution)
Africa Pitarch Martí, Université Bordeaux
Mary E. Prendergast, Rice University
Alain Queffelec, Université Bordeaux
Solange Rigaud, Université Bordeaux
Patrick Roberts, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Mohammad Javad Shoaee, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Ceri Shipton, University College London
Ian Simpson, University of Edinburgh
Nicole Boivin, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Michael D. Petraglia, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2021

Keywords

Archaeology, Biological anthropology, Palaeontology

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03457-8

Abstract

The origin and evolution of hominin mortuary practices are topics of intense interest and debate1–3. Human burials dated to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) are exceedingly rare in Africa and unknown in East Africa1–6. 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 Kenya7,8. 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. The earliest known human burial in Africa, that of a young child, is dated to around 78,000 years ago.

Was this content written or created while at USF?

Yes

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Nature, v. 593, p. 95-100

Share

COinS