Was a small-brained human relative the world’s first gravedigger—and artist?

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 13:08 in Paleontology & Archaeology

A trio of papers posted online and presented at a meeting today lays out an astonishing scenario. Roughly 240,000 years ago, they suggest, small-brained human relatives carried their dead through a labyrinth of tight passageways into the dark depths of a vast limestone cave system in South Africa. Working by firelight, these diminutive cave explorers dug shallow graves, sometimes arranging bodies in fetal positions and placing a stone tool near a child’s hand. Some etched cave walls with crosshatches and others cooked small animals in what amounted to a subterranean funeral, more than 100,000 years before such behaviors emerged in modern humans. If true, this scenario, based on a wealth of fossil finds in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, would have major implications for the dawn of human behavior ...

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