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Researchers find a 78,000-year-old human burial, Africa’s oldest

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Some of the oldest significant human burials in the world are the bones of a mother and her child found in the Cave of Qafzeh in Nazareth, Israel, and other discoveries in Europe and Asia dating back 120,000 years.

Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the earliest human burial in Africa, remnants of a three-year-old child buried about 78,000 years ago, according to the study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The child’s grave was found at the mouth of the Panga ya Saidi Cave along the southeastern coast of Kenya. The bones were recovered in 2013, but the scientists did not realise the extent of what they had discovered until 2017.

At this point, we weren’t sure what we had found. The bones were just too delicate to study in the field

We had a find that we were pretty excited about – but it would be a while before we understood its importance 

Emmanuel Ndiema of the National Museums of Kenya said.

The buried toddler was nicknamed “Mtoto”, which is “child” in Swahili. According to the scientists, the remains turned out to be “astonishingly preserved”.

The little one buried was nicknamed “Mtoto”, which is “child” in Swahili. According to the scientists, the remains were found to be “astonishingly preserved”.

We started uncovering parts of the skull and face, with the intact articulation of the mandible and some unerupted teeth in place

The articulation of the spine and the ribs was also astonishingly preserved, even conserving the curvature of the thorax cage, suggesting that it was an undisturbed burial and that the decomposition of the body took place right in the pit where the bones were found

explained Professor María Martinón-Torres, director at CENIEH.

The researchers reported that Mtoto’s body was found lying on the right side with the knees pulled toward the chest – something which represents a burial closely surrounded by deliberate preparation.

Martinón-Torres noted that:

the position and collapse of the head in the pit suggested that a perishable support may have been present, such as a pillow, indicating that the community may have undertaken some form of funerary rite

Although the Kenyan site where Mtoto was buried could be the oldest funerary site in Africa, scientists from all over the world have discovered sites between 90,000 and 130,000 years of age.

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