The Oldest Known Burial Site in The World Wasn’t Made by Our Species : ScienceAlert

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Paleontologists in South Africa said they have found the world’s oldest known burial site, containing the remains of a distant relative with small brains of humans previously thought to be incapable of complex behavior.

Led by famed paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, researchers said in June they had discovered several specimens Gay star – a tree-climbing Stone Age hominid – buried about 30 meters underground in a cave system in the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage site near Johannesburg.

“These are the oldest burials recorded in the hominin record to date, before evidence A wise man burials by at least 100,000 years,” the scientists wrote in a series of preprint articles published in eLife.​

The findings challenge the current understanding of human evolution, because it is normally believed that the development of larger brains allowed for the performance of complex, “meaning-making” activities such as burying the dead.

The oldest previously excavated graves, found in the Middle East and Africa, contain the remains of A wise man – and were about 100,000 years old

The finds in South Africa by Berger, whose previous announcements were controversial, and his fellow researchers date back to at least 200,000 BC.

It is crucial that they also belong Gay stara primitive species at the crossroads between apes and modern humans, which had a brain the size of oranges and stood about 1.5 meters tall.

With flexed fingers and toes, tool-wielding hands and feet and made for walking, the species Berger discovered had already turned on its head the idea that our evolutionary path was a straight line.

Gay star is named after the cave system “Rising Star” where the first bones were found in 2013.

Paleontologist Lou Berger in South Africa’s ‘Rising Star’ cave system, where Gay star remains were found. (Luca Sola/AFP)

The oval-shaped burials at the center of the new studies were also found there during excavations that began in 2018.

The holes, which investigators say there are indications were deliberately dug and then filled to cover the bodies, contained at least five people.

“These discoveries show that mortuary practices were not limited to H. sapiens or other hominins with large brain sizes,” the researchers said.

The cemetery is not the only sign of this Gay star was capable of complex emotional and cognitive behavior, she added.

Brain size

Carvings depicting geometric shapes, including a ‘rough hashtag figure’, were also found on the apparently deliberately smooth surfaces of a nearby cave pillar.

“That would mean not only that humans are not unique in developing symbolic practices, but that they may not have even invented such behavior,” Berger told AFP in an interview.

Such statements are likely to ruffle some feathers in the world of paleontology, where the 57-year-old has previously faced accusations of lack of scientific accuracy and jumping to conclusions.

Many objected when Berger received support for his earlier discoveries in 2015 National Geographicfirst broadcast the idea that Gay star was capable of more than the size of his head suggested

“That was too much for scientists at the time. We think it’s all related to this big brain,” he said.

“We are about to tell the world that this is not true.”

Gay star skull
The skull of Gay star found in South Africa. (Luca Sola/AFP)

Although further analysis is needed, the discoveries “change our understanding of human evolution,” the researchers wrote.

“Burial, meaning-making and even ‘art’ could have a much more complicated, dynamic, non-human history than we previously thought,” he said. Agustin Fuentes, professor of anthropology at Princeton University, who co-authored the studies.

Carol Ward, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri who was not involved in the study, said that “these findings, if confirmed, would be of significant potential importance.”

“I look forward to learning how the placement of remains rules out possible explanations other than intentional burial, and to seeing the results once they have been vetted by peer review,” she told AFP.

Ward also pointed out that the paper acknowledged that it could not be ruled out that markings on the walls could have been made by later hominids.

© Agence France-Presse

An earlier version of this article appeared in June 2023.

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