Scientist discover world's oldest burial site in South Africa
Researchers say findings could be some of the earliest examples of mortuary practices by a small-brained hominin
Scientists have unearthed what may be the oldest burial site in the world, located in South Africa, containing remains of a small-brained distant relative of humans they believe could have buried their dead, and perhaps forcing a revision of current theories.
In the initial findings some years ago, scientists thought that the small-brained distant relatives of humans discovered in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, known as Homo naledi, a tree-climbing, Stone Age hominid, were not capable of complex behavior such as burying their dead.
“These findings could be some of the earliest examples of mortuary practices and meaning-making by a small-brained hominin, thus altering our understanding of human evolution,” paleoanthropologist and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger, who led the team, said on Monday.
Berger and his research team, which included Keneiloe Molopyane and Augustin Fuentes, identified depressions deep in the chambers of the Rising Star cave system, located at the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO world heritage site 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Johannesburg.
“Bodies of H. naledi adults and several children estimated to be younger than 13 years of age were deposited in fetal positions, which suggests intentional burial of the dead,” the dig team said.
The Rising Star cave system in South Africa has one of the earliest known burials sites of Homo sapiens – our own species – dating back least 100,000 years, but the Homo naledi sites are far older. Homo naledi had brains about one-third the size of the human brain, and the discovery could force a new understanding of the roots of such symbolic and spiritual acts.
The research, funded by the National Geographic Society, has yet to be peer reviewed.
Seven years ago, South African scientists announced the discovery of the richest fossil hominin site on the continent, unveiling a new species named Homo naledi.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.