Earliest Known Burial Site in Africa

Researchers have identified the earliest known human burial in Africa at Panga ya Saidi, a cave near the Kenyan coast. A child, probably a boy of about 2-1/2 to 3 years old, was placed in a pit about 78,000 years ago, laid carefully on his side, curled up, likely with some kind of pillow under his head. Modern humans and Neanderthals buried their dead in Europe and the Middle East at multiple sites that have been dated as 120,000 years old. But little evidence of burial behaviors has been uncovered in Africa, the acknowledged origin of modern humans. One possible burial in South Africa dates to about 74,000 years ago and another in Egypt to 68,000 years ago. The burial of this person the researchers named Mtoto, meaning “child” in Swahili, clearly shows intentional care that characterizes what scientists call funerary behavior, as opposed to merely placing remains at a distance from a camp.


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