In the "cradle of humanity"100,000-year-old tombs discovered in South Africa : Science Evolution

In the "cradle of humanity"100,000-year-old tombs discovered in South Africa : Science Evolution

In a development that may shake the scientific legacies of human evolution, world-famous paleontologist Lee Berger announced the discovery by researchers in South Africa of the oldest prehistoric burials, which increases the age of the first traces of funerary practices by at least 100,000 years.

The fossils of these human ancestors were found in burials during archaeological excavations that began in 2018, in a state of confinement in buried cavities at the end of a network of narrow galleries.

The explorers noted that the tombs were plugged with earth that had initially been drawn in to form the holes, indicating that the bodies of these humans were buried voluntarily.

"These are the oldest recorded human burials, predating Homo sapiens by at least 100,000 years," the researchers said in a series of articles that still need to be peer-reviewed before being published in the scientific journal eLife.

The excavations took place at an archaeological site known as the "Cradle of Humanity", which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is located northwest of Johannesburg.

The oldest previously discovered tombs, mainly in the Middle East and Kenya, date back to about 100,000 years before our era, and contain remains of Homo sapiens.

South African burials date back between 200,000 and 300,000 years. It contains the bones of a human being of the type "Homo naledi" (star in the local language), a short human being about 1.5 meters long with a brain the size of an orange.

This species, whose discovery in 2013 by American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger called into question graphological readings of human evolution, remains a mystery to scientists.

By combining features of creatures millions of years old, such as primitive teeth and legs capable of climbing, Homo naledi also has two feet similar to those of modern humans, and hands capable of using tools.

small brain

Scientists say, "These results show that funerary practices were not limited to Homo sapiens or other large-brained humans."

This theory, which runs counter to the generally accepted notion that awareness of death and related practices are characteristic of humans, was previously hinted at by Lee Berger when he introduced Homo naledi to the world in 2015.

The hypothesis aroused anger at the time, amid questions from many specialists about the scientific accuracy approved by the authority that published these results, which are supported by the "National Geographic" network.

"It was beyond the tolerance of scientists at the time," Berger told AFP in an interview. And he explains that they are still "convinced that all this is related to our big brain and that it happened very recently, less than a hundred thousand years ago."

"We are about to tell the world that this is not true," adds the 57-year-old researcher.

For a long time, researchers have linked the ability to control fire, engraving, or drawing to the mental strength of modern humans, as is the case with Cro-Magnons.

"Burials, perceptions of meaning, and even art can have a much more complex non-human origin than we thought," says Princeton University paleontologist Agustín Fuentes, a co-author of the study.
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