Cave site in Kenya reveals the oldest human burial in Africa

10 May 2021
An artist’s impression of Mtoto’s burial. Fernando Fueyo, Author provided.

Africa is often referred to as the cradle of humankind – the birthplace of our species, Homo sapiens. There is evidence of the development of early symbolic behaviours such as pigment use and perforated shell ornaments in Africa, but so far most of what we know about the development of complex social behaviours such as burial and mourning has come from Eurasia.

However, the remains of a child buried almost 80,000 years ago under an overhang at Panga ya Saidi cave in Kenya is providing important new details.

Alison Crowther, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology from The University of Queensland and Patrick Faulkner, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Sydney, worked with a team of researchers from Kenya, Germany, Spain, France, Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States to study the burial.

The results, published in Nature, reveal valuable insights into human cultural evolution, including how Middle Stone Age populations interacted with the dead.

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