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Archaeo News 

13 January 2022
Is this the oldest example of a burial in Africa?

Back in the day, archaeologists could only rely on fairly basic technology to help them with dating. Then, in the 20th Century, as technology became more sophisticated, so did the dating methods, such as stratigraphy, dendrochronology, radiocarbon, potassium-argon, thermoluminescence and many more.
     Most of these techniques relied on the artefact being in a fairly stable condition. Now, a relatively new technique, known as 'Microcomputed tomography', or microCT for short, uses a non-destructive imaging technique to examine extremely fragile objects, producing a high-resolution three-dimensional image, compose of two-dimensional trans-axial projects, or 'slices'. This allows for a detailed analysis without the need to possibly damage the artefact by removing surrounding material.
     It was this technique that was used to astonishing effect by a Spanish anthropologist, Maria Martinon-Torres, to uncover what could probably be the oldest example of a human burial. The fragile artefact in question had been excavated from a site in Kenya, known as the Panga ya Saidi Cave, and transported intact, with all the surrounding material, to Spain. Martinon-Torres is a director of the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution and it was there that the microCT was carried out.
     The findings showed that they were the remains of a 3-year-old child, which was curled up and had been buried with love and kindness, with the head originally resting on a pillow. The analysis of the surrounding soil placed the burial as having occurred in approximately 76,000 BCE, earlier than the previously believed earliest burials in 72,000 BCE in South Africa and 67,000 BCE in Egypt, although these two finds were dated using less sophisticated technology and the accompanying margin of error.
     The remains have now been returned to a permanent home in the National Museum of Kenya

Edited from Discover (5 January 2022)

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