12000-yr-old cremated remains of child shed new light on Ice-Age culture

Friday, February 25, 2011

WASHINGTON - The remains of a three-yr-old child in a newly excavated archaeological site in Alaska may provide rare insights into the burial practices of Ice Age peoples.

Archaeologists said the remains found at the site are the oldest human remains found in Northern North America, as well as the second youngest Ice Age child on the continent.

“This site reflects many different behaviours never before seen in this part of the world during the last Ice Age, and the preservation and lack of disturbance allows us to explore the life ways of these ancient peoples in new ways,” said Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The team found that the pit also contained remains of small mammals, birds, and fish as well as plant remains.

Because the human remains were in the uppermost part of the pit, above the animal remains, the researchers suspect the pit was not originally designed as a grave, but evidence suggests the occupants abandoned the house after the cremation-burial.

Despite being burnt, the child’s remains might reveal DNA.

Tanana Chiefs Conference President Jerry Isaac intends to have his own DNA compared to the find.

The researchers hypothesize that a small group of people, which included adult females and young children, were foraging in the area in the vicinity of this residential camp, fishing and hunting birds and small mammals.

A pit was dug within a house, used for cooking and/or a means of disposing food debris for weeks or months preceding the death of the child.

The child died and was cremated in the pit.

The pit was likely filled with surrounding soil soon after the body was burned. The house was fairly soon abandoned, they concluded, due to the lack of artifacts found above this fill.

The find is published Feb. 25 in the journal Science. (ANI)

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