Ancient Child's Burial on the Nile

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, October 10, 1998 | Go to article overview

Ancient Child's Burial on the Nile


Bower, Bruce, Science News


While excavating an Egyptian Stone Age rock quarry in 1994, a team led by Belgian archaeologist Pierre M. Vermeersch of the Catholic University of Leuven (K.U. Leuven) made an unexpected and poignant discovery. A child's skeleton sat propped against the wall of a shallow pit, its face skyward, legs pulled up, left arm on its hip and right arm behind its back.

This striking find may represent the oldest known burial in Africa north of the equator, and perhaps in the entire continent, Vermeersch and his coworkers report in the September Antiquity. Preliminary work indicates that the child was an anatomically modern human who died roughly 55,000 years ago, between ages 8 and 10, and was intentionally buried.

The skeleton came from Taramsa Hill in the Nile valley, about 250 miles south of Cairo. Prehistoric folk went there to dig up pieces of chert, a flint-like rock that they fashioned into stone tools.

"The location of this find is significant, because it's on a possible dispersion route of modern humans from Africa into Asia and Europe between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago," says anthropologist Christopher B. Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, a coauthor of the new report.

Much of the skeleton crumbled during recovery, despite painstaking efforts to remove it in a protective layer of compacted sediment. A gaping hole in the youngster's cranium attests to the fossil's fragility. The partial skull, a number of teeth, and several shafts from arm and leg bones survived excavation. …

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