martes, 11 de noviembre de 2014

11,500 year-old infant double burial unearthed in Alaska (USA)

Two Ice Age infants, buried more than 11,000 years ago at a site in Alaska, represent the youngest human remains ever found in northern North America. The site and its artefacts provide new insights into Eastern Beringian funeral practices and other rarely preserved aspects of life among people who inhabited the area thousands of years ago, according to a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The find was made on the site of a 2010 excavation, where the cremated remains of another 3-year-old child were found. The burial was situated 40 cm directly below the cremation which was associated with a central hearth of a residential feature.
Working closely with local and regional Native tribal organisations, Ben Potter, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the paper’s lead author, led the archaeological team that made the discovery in the Autumn of 2013 at the Upward Sun River site, near the Tanana River in central Alaska.

Complex behaviour

There is little direct evidence about social organisation and mortuary practices of such early human cultures, so the human remains and associated burial offerings, as well as inferences about the time of year the children died and were laid to rest, will give a more detailed insight into how early societies were structured, the stresses they faced as they tried to survive, how they treated the youngest members of their society, and how they viewed death and the importance of rituals associated with it.
The radiocarbon dates of the newly discovered remains are identical to those of the previous find–about 11,500 years ago–indicating a short period of time between the burial and cremation, perhaps a single season.

Grave goods

Also found within the burials were grave good which included: shaped stone points and associated antler foreshafts decorated with abstract incised lines, representing some of the oldest examples of hafted compound weapons in North America.
The researchers also examined dental and skeletal remains to determine the probable age and sex of the infants at the time of the death: One survived birth by a few weeks, while the other was a late term fetus. The presence of three deaths within a single highly mobile foraging group may indicate resource stress, such as food shortages.
The artefacts–including the projectile points, plant and animal remains–may also help to build a more complete picture of early human societies and how they were structured and survived climate changes at the end of the last great Ice Age. The presence of two burial events–the buried infants and cremated child–within the same dwelling could also indicate relatively longer-term residential occupation of the site than previously expected.

Summer occupation

The remains of salmon-like fish and ground squirrels in the burial pit indicate that the site was likely occupied by hunter-gatherers between June and August. Summer is a time when regional resource abundance and diversity is high and nutritional stress should therefore be low. This suggests higher levels of mortality than may be expected.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Source: Past Horizons:

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