A team of scientists led by American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger claimed Monday to have discovered the oldest prehistoric tomb ever known in South Africa.
Excavations that began in 2018 showed distant human relatives in their fossilized state huddled in buried crevices at the end of a narrow network of tunnels about 30 meters underground, in fetal positions, from tombs. It’s been found.
“These are the oldest human burials on record, predating Homo sapiens burials by at least 100,000 years,” the scientists said in a series of papers published in the scientific journal eLife. It still needs peer review before it can be published.
The oval tomb was discovered at a paleontological site called ‘The Cradle of Mankind’ in northwestern Johannesburg and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is filled with caves and pre-human fossils.
The tomb contains the bones of a distant relative of humans, Homo naledi, with a brain the size of an orange. Berger’s discovery in 2013 called some theories about evolution into question.
The earliest burial objects found so far, particularly in the Middle East and Kenya, date to around 100,000 BC and contain the remains of a direct ancestor of humans, Homo sapiens.
Graves found in South Africa date from 200,000 to 300,000 BC
During excavations that began in 2018, Berger’s team also found geometric symbols carved into the walls of the tomb, including lines, squares and crosses.
“This means that humans may not have developed symbolic habits alone, nor may they have invented such behaviors,” says National Geographic.57 A paleoanthropologist said.
Big or small brain
Researchers often associate proficiency in fire, sculpture, and painting with the large brain size of modern humans.
Equipped with features of creatures that are millions of years old, such as primitive teeth and climbing legs, Homo naledi also has feet and tool-handling hands similar to ours.
“These findings indicate that mortuary practices were not confined to Homo sapiens or other large-brained hominids,” the scientists added in their paper.
This theory runs counter to the generally accepted idea that death consciousness and associated practices make humans, and was already put forward by Berger when he introduced Homo naledi to the world in 2015.
At the time, the hypothesis was controversial, with many experts questioning the scientific rigor of American paleoanthropologists.
“It was just too much for scientists at the time,” Berger said in an interview with AFP. They “are all about our big brains, and I’m pretty sure that happened just recently, 100,000 years ago,” he explained.
“We are trying to tell the world that it is not true,” the explorer mourned.