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In the Kenyan cave of Panga-ya-Saidi, archaeologists have discovered a burial site with an age of 78.3 thousand years, from the Middle Stone Age. According to scientists, this burial pit with skeletal remains can be called the oldest on the African continent found so far.

The first bone fragments were identified in 2013, but only four years later, under the" floor " of Panga-ya-Saidi, at a depth of several meters, a rounded cavity was opened. It contained loose sediments and poorly preserved human bones. The remains were decided to be preserved and transported first to Nairobi, and then to the Spanish city of Burgos.

There, employees of the National Center for Human Evolution Research (CENIEH) restored the bones, conducted archaeometry, digital cartography, three-dimensional analysis, computer microscopy and microtomography. "At first, we didn't understand what we had found. The bones were too fragile to be examined on site — " said Emmanuel Ndima of the National Museums of Kenya, who participated in the study. — We were excited by the discovery and only realized its significance after a while."

After analyzing the remains, it turned out that they belong to a male Homo sapiens child. At the time of his death, he was no more than three years old. The baby's jaw joints were intact, but some of the teeth had not yet formed. "The articulation of the spine and ribs was preserved, as was the curvature of the chest," added paleoanthropologist Maria Martinon — Torres, head of the study.

The boy's body had lain for thousands of years in a bent position: on his right side, with his knees pressed to his chest. Microscopic analysis of the bones and surrounding soil showed that the child's corpse was placed in the ground and immediately buried.

"It suggests that this was a deliberate burial: the decomposition of the body took place in the same cavity in which we found the bones," said Martinon — Torres. "The position of the head suggests the use of a decayed support or pillow, which suggests the existence of some kind of funeral rite."

Probably the child was wrapped in a shroud or shroud: it is no longer possible to judge for sure, since the fragments of fabric cannot be identified in the tightly packed earth.

On the same level where the burial was found, stone tools from the African Mesolithic period were found. "The connection between the burial of this child and the tools of the Middle Stone Age played a crucial role in confirming that it is definitely Homo sapiens," the scientists explained.

Although Africa is considered the "cradle of humanity" — after all, it is there, according to experts, that human culture and community appeared-not so much early evidence of burial sites on this continent was found. While in Europe and Asia, the graves of Neanderthals and modern humans up to 120 thousand years old were discovered, what happened to the dead in Africa remained for the most part a mystery to scientists.

The article is published in the journal Nature

Photo - Panga ya Saidi Cave / © Jorge González/Elena Santos