Earliest modern female human infant burial found in Europe

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A new analysis of the remains of a child discovered in an Italian cave has revealed that it belongs to the oldest known cave sane man The burial of infants in Europe – a discovery that has helped resolve questions about the condition of infants and especially the “personality” of infant feeding thousands of years ago.

The baby girl, named Nephi after a river in the area, was only 40-50 days old when she died just over 10,000 years ago. The cause of her death is not known, and all that remains now are a few of her small bones and seashell beads from a shroud in which she was wrapped. The claw of an eagle and an owl, which was found nearby, appears to have been put there as a gift.

Archaeologists rarely find bones of old children, especially those of newborns, because they are often too small and brittle to be touched over thousands of years. It is common to find adult remains, however the archaeological record of prehistoric tombs has large gaps covering thousands of years. And when ancient burials of children are found, it is usually impossible to determine their gender because any DNA in their bones has been degraded.

However, Neff’s remains are exceptional because they have survived more than 10,000 years on Earth and still contain enough DNA for scientists to analyze, explains University of Colorado, Denver paleoarchaeologist and National Geographic explorer Jimmy Hodkins, lead author of a study on still It is published today in the magazine Scientific reports.

“The number of burials at this time, between about 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, is very, very rare,” Hodgkins says. Few of the humans who survive to this age have usable DNA, and “it’s in a gap where we don’t have much of anything at all.”

The remaining DNA is important because it helped establish that the child was a girl; The researchers argue that burial care confirms that female children, and likely male children, were a “personality” within the group—in other words, they were considered members of their community at birth.

“This suggests to us that personality, or recognition of individuals within a community, has passed on to very young females,” says Kali Orr, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Denver, who is a co-author on the new study and is married to Hodgkins.

The age at which children were accepted as individuals, and whether girls were treated like boys, is a question scholars are not sure of, in part because so little can be learned from the few ancient child burials that have been excavated. But anthropologist Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, who was not involved in the latest research but did study a previous burial of a man sane man A kid in Africa, thinks the explanation is plausible. “I agree that the evidence indicates equal treatment of males and females,” he says in an email. “This agrees with [today’s] Equal hunter-gatherer societies.

Hodgkins and Orr also refer to one of the few known burials of a child of the same age as Nephi who was buried around the same time – about 11,500 years ago – in what is now Alaska’s Tanana Valley. Ancient DNA confirmed that the baby was also a girl; And this burial, too, showed signs of interest and included grave gifts. “This means that infant personality including females has deeper origins in the common ancestral culture, or that it arose in parallel in nearly contemporary populations across the planet,” the study authors wrote.

Hodgkins says archeology has traditionally been viewed through a male lens, and she is concerned that there are many stories about females that have been overlooked. “The highly decorated burials were supposed to be male, because we were consistent with the Western European idea that men have status and women do not,” she says. But recent archaeological finds indicate the presence of Viking female warriors, non-dual chiefs from the Iron Age, and female rulers from the Bronze Age. “What is missing from archeology is the female story,” she says.

Currently, Neve’s is the oldest burial of a female infant found in Europe. But Hodgkins doesn’t expect that to be the case for long: “More and more DNA analysis will be done and we’ll find more and more women in the past,” she says. She also expects that greater participation of women in archeology will bring about change. “If we only looked at the archaeological record through a narrow personal lens, we would miss all the diversity that has existed over time…”

The cave in northwestern Italy where the remains of Nephi were found, known as Arma Veirana, has become popular among scientists who study human evolution. Excavations that began in 2014 revealed the occupation of both Neanderthals (neanderthal) up to 44,000 years ago, by early modern humans )wise man) 30,000 years ago. This means that the artifacts and remains found in the cave date the transitional period between the last and first Neanderthals. sane man The time that scientists want to know more about.

In 2017, team members were searching for traces of Neanderthals in Arma Veirana when they found the first Neanderthal bones. sane man child. The discovery was made in the last few days of fieldwork scheduled for this year, and so the burial could not be fully excavated until the following year. By then, Hodgkins knew she was pregnant with a baby girl, which made the fossils especially impressive: “I was sifting sediments through a sieve, and I found these little hand teeth and bones,” she says. “It was really sad to find it, because the hand is an intimate part of the body.”

The team found more than 60 beads and necklaces made from two types of seashells that appear to have been sewn onto a cover – now dismantled – that was wrapped around the infant when she was buried. This indicates that someone in the group visited the coast, then about 12 miles up wooded hills, to collect seashells for decoration, or they exchanged them with them. Many of the motifs have significant signs of wear, and Arizona State University anthropologist Claudine Gravel Miguel, a co-author on the study, believes they may have been motifs that belonged to other members of the group.

Paleoanthropologist Maria Martinon Torres, director of the Spanish National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIAH) in Burgos, says the burial of Arma Vierana is “a beautiful example of the way humans interact with the dead, a practice that goes back hundreds of thousands of years and can be documented in both sane man and Neanderthals. “

Martinón-Torres was not involved in the latest study, but led the research in sane man A child was buried in Africa about 78,000 years ago – tens of thousands of years before our species reached Europe.

She agrees that the discovery of Arma Veirana reinforces the idea that infants are considered members of their communities from birth. “From early sane man And our Neanderthal periods are evidence that children had personality,” she says in an email. “The oldest documented burials in Africa…include children and a deliberate dedication to the way the body is disposed of.”

Martinon-Torres adds that it appears that “premature” infant deaths can trigger intense emotions in humans and some primates. “This is what we see in modern times, but it can also be seen in chimpanzees mourning their infants.”

The National Geographic Society, committed to illuminating and protecting the wonders of our world, has funded Jamie Hodgkins’ work.Learn more about community support for explorers working to inspire, educate, and better understand human history and cultures.

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