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21 February 2018
Ancient society buried disabled children like kings

About 34,000 years ago, a group of hunters and gatherers buried the dead bodies of two boys, roughly 10- and 12-years-old, head to head in a long slender grave filled with riches, including more than 10,000 mammoth ivory beads, more than 20 armbands, about 300 pierced fox teeth, 16 ivory mammoth spears, carved artwork, deer antlers, and two human lower leg bones laid across the boys' chests.
     In contrast, the remains of a roughly 40-year-old man had far fewer treasures: about 3,000 mammoth ivory beads, 12 pierced fox canines, 25 mammoth ivory arm bands, and a stone pendant.
     The burials, about 200 kilometres east of Moscow, were excavated from 1957 to 1977 and date to the Mid Upper Palaeolithic. In total, there are 10 men and women buried at Sunghir, but the two boys have by far the most spectacular riches; they also have physical conditions that likely limited the individuals during their short lives.
     According to an analysis of their dental enamel, both boys experienced repeated periods of extreme stress. The 10-year-old boy's thighbones are described as 'exceptionally bowed and short', but the younger boy was physically active. The 12-year-old boy's teeth surprisingly had almost no wear. Analyses of his skeleton indicate that he was bedridden. It is possible the group was feeding the 12-year-old boy soft foods, such as porridge.
     Individuals with marked developmental or degenerative abnormalities account for a third of sufficiently well-preserved burials from the Mid Upper Paleolithic, however it was slightly less common for youngsters to receive such a burial during this period.
     What really caught the researchers' attention was the diversity of the burial artefacts. Some people had only a few fox canines and mammoth ivory beads, others had nothing. This indicates social complexity, because it shows that individuals were treated differently in death, and probably in life.

Edited from LiveScience (13 February 2018)

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