Homo sapiens in Africa, and traces of modern use of in our species date back around 160,000 years . Today, humans are considered for the universality with which we symbolically commemorate the deceased. Despite this, the oldest known burial in Africa was — until now.
, a team of researchers described the oldest burial in Africa to date, containing the nearly 80,000 year old skeleton of a 2.5 to 3 year old child in a cave off the coast of South Africa. Several features of the burial, including the change in soil color and texture, indicate that the pit was created intentionally, rather than an existing natural feature.
According to their analysis, the child was placed in the pit shortly after death, before the tissues could deteriorate, which would displace the bones. However, some bones in the upper body were rotated, suggesting that the child had been partially wrapped in and supported by a perishable material. Interestingly, though the researchers identified the child as belonging to Homo sapiens, they note that some dental features differ from those seen in humans today — those differences resemble dental patterns found in Neanderthals.
Older dating to the same archaeological period have been previously found in the Levant. This new find highlights the biological and cultural diversity of different hominin populations during this period, and showcases the care with which individuals were buried tens of thousands of years ago.