|24 December 2015
'Rattles' found in prehistoric infant's grave
An infant who lived around 4,500 years ago was buried in a birchbark cradle with eight intricately carved figurines that may have been used as rattling toys or charms to ward off evil spirits. The infant also wears headgear made from 11 copper plaques sewn together.
The burial was discovered on the northwest shore of Lake Itkul in the Minusinsk basinin Russia. The infant's remains suggest he or she was less than a year old at death. On the infant's chest, archaeologists found "eight miniature horn figurines representing humanlike characters and heads of birds, elk, boar and a carnivore," wrote archaeologists Andrey Polyakov and Yury Esin.
The intricately carved figurines were likely made from deer antlers and have traces of red paint on them. "Some of [the figurines] have internal cavities and, upon coming in contact with each other, could produce noisy sounds like modern rattles," wrote Polyakov, of the Institute for the History of Material Culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Esin, of the Khakassian Research Institute of Language, Literature and History.
The figurines would have been attached in some way to the cradle, the researchers say. They could have functioned as toys and may also have protected the infant from evil powers. "Various apotropaic charms are a necessary element of cradle decoration in the traditional cultures," Polyakov and Esin wrote. Archaeologists cannot rule out the possibility that the figurines have "no relation to the cradle, and [were] placed into the burial to ensure successful transition of the deceased child to the next world," they wrote.
The infant's head was turned toward the southwest, and, on the skull, archaeologists found 11 small copper plaques, 10 of which were made from a thin oval copper plate no more than a half inch (1.5 cm) across, the archaeologists said. Each of the plaques had two fastening holes, where thin leather laces would've been threaded through to attach them to one another. The cap could then be placed on the infant's head. Remains of those laces were also found in the burial. One of the plaques was made of two metallic cones that would have been sewn together. "Probably these were adornments of the child's cap," Polyakov and Esin wrote. They note that an earring was also found to the left of the infant's skull.
The infant was buried along with several other people in a burial mound called a kurgan. The people buried in the mound were part of what modern-day archaeologists call the Okunev culture. "People who were buried in this kurgan were early herders. We have images of domesticated animals (especially bulls), carts and wagons in Okunev rock art," Esin wrote. The Okunev people may have venerated anthropomorphic [part-human and part-animal] deities.
Edited from LiveScience (21 December 2015)
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