(Reuters) - Archaeologists working in Alaska's remote interior have discovered the burial site of an Ice Age infant and a late-term fetus believed to be the youngest remains found
in the Americas dating from that period.
The burials, found
underneath the cremated remains of an Ice Age toddler, date to about
11,500 years ago and provide new insights into mortuary practices of the
people who lived in the area of the Upward Sun River site at the time.
largely complete skeletons were found in a circular pit with associated
"grave goods" that included four antler rods and two stone projectile
points, all decorated with red ochre, according to research carried out
last year by a team led by University of Alaska anthropologist Ben
a paper published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences, the team said skeletal and dental analyses indicate one of
the skeletons was of an infant that died shortly after birth, while the
other was of a late-term fetus.
site represents the youngest-aged late Pleistocene individuals known in
the Americas, it said, as well as the continent's only known prenatal
burial dating from the period.
pair, both tentatively believed to have been female, were found buried
about 16 inches (40 cm) beneath the cremated remains of a 3-year-old
child that was previously excavated by the team during work at the site
infants with associated grave goods and a third cremated child represent
the earliest known human remains from the North American subarctic, and
they provide evidence for novel mortuary behaviors at the end of the
last Ice Age," the authors wrote.
team, which included Joel Irish of Liverpool John Moores University,
said the site shares characteristics with other burials from the same
periods, including interment in pits, red ochre, and grave goods
consisting of functional tools, as opposed to ornaments or trinkets.
The archaeologists believe the stone projectile points were once attached to the antler rods to make tools
or weapons, and could reflect the importance of hunting implements in
the burial ceremony. But they said they also noted the predominance of
fish and small game remains at the site.