Scientists claim to have discovered the first prehistoric tombs

“These are the oldest burials ever recorded among hominids, at least 100,000 years before those of Homo sapiens.”say the scientists in a series of pre-print papers that still need to be reviewed before being published in a scientific journal. eLife. “These findings suggest that mortuary practices were not limited to Homo sapiens or other large-brained hominids.”they add.

Paleontological site of the “Cradle of Humankind”.

The oval burials, located approximately thirty meters underground, were discovered at the Cradle of Humankind paleontological site, located northwest of Johannesburg, classified as UNESCO World Heritage and full of caves as well as pre-human fossils. They contain the bones of Homo naledi, a distant human cousin with a brain the size of an orange whose discovery in 2013 by Lee Berger had already challenged certain evolutionary theories.

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The oldest tombs discovered so far, particularly in the Middle East and Kenya, date back to around 100,000 BC and contain the remains of Homo sapiens, a direct human ancestor. Burials discovered in South Africa date from -200,000 to -300,000 years ago.

Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger at the main entrance to the ‘Cradle of Mankind’ Rising Star cave system, northwest of Johannesburg, May 11, 2023 (AFP/Archive – Luca Sola)

Excavations began in 2018

During the excavations that began in 2018, Lee Berger’s team also found geometric symbols, lines, squares and crosses traced on the walls of the tombs. “This would mean that humans are not the only ones who have developed symbolic practices, but they may not have even invented such behaviors.”says the 57-year-old paleoanthropologist he supports National Geographic.

Researchers usually associate the mastery of fire, engraving or even painting with the large brain size of modern man, as is characteristic of Cro-Magnon man.

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