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19 October 2008
Cremation site unearthed in Syria

A team of researchers from the University of Tsukuba (Japan) has uncovered the remains of a crematorium thought to be about 8,600 years old, at the Tell el-Kerkh complex in northwest Syria. Cremated bones thought to be over 20,000 years old have been found in the past, but the Tell el-Kerkh find is believed to be the world's oldest cremation site with both cremated bones and the pits used for cremation.
     Last year, a grave site thought to be about 8,500 years old - among the world's oldest - was discovered in the area. Prof. Akira Tsuneki, leader of the University of Tsukuba team said that when further digging was carried out in August this year, four pits measuring about 1 meter in diameter and 50 to 80 centimeters in depth were found, together with the remains of 47 people. Of those, about 20 had been cremated. In two locations that were investigated, the cremated remains of about five people had been buried. There were no remains in a third area that was investigated, but the earthen walls were burned and hardened, and there were cremated remains nearby.
     "About a ton of wood was needed for cremation, and the fact that some people were cremated and others weren't suggested that it was people with a certain status who were cremated," Tsuneki said. The layer of earth in the area, including the remains of the cremation site, was found to be about 8,600 years old through radiocarbon dating. Hiroyuki Sato, a professor in prehistoric archeology at the University of Tokyo, said the latest find was an important one. "The Neolithic age was a time when hierarchies started to appear and the elite emerged," Sato said. "These are extremely important archaeological sites."
     In the Willandra Lakes Region of Australia, a woman's burned bones estimated to be about 26,000 years old were found, but the previous oldest find in what was clearly a cremation area was in northern Iraq, going back an estimated 7,000 years. The latest find is some 1,600 years older than that.

Source: The Mainichi Daily News (18 Otober 2008)

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