According to a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the remains of two Ice Age infants who were buried more than 11,000 years ago at a site in Alaska represent the youngest human remains ever found in northern North America.
The site and its artifacts provide new insights into funeral practices and other rarely preserved aspects of life among people who inhabited the area thousands of years ago, said Ben Potter, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the paper’s lead author. The researcher led the archaeological team that made the discovery in fall of 2013 at an excavation of the Upward Sun River site, near the Tanana River in central Alaska.
It was noted by Potter and his colleagues that the human remains and associated burial offerings could lead to new thinking about how early societies were structured. “Taken collectively, these burials and cremation reflect complex behaviors related to death among the early inhabitants of North America,” Potter said.
Potter and his colleagues described unearthing of the remains of the two children in a burial pit under a residential structure. The team also found unprecedented grave offerings within the burials, which included shaped stone points and associated antler foreshafts decorated with abstract incised lines. “The presence of hafted points may reflect the importance of hunting implements in the burial ceremony and with the population as whole,” the paper notes.
“The deaths occurred during the summer, a time period when regional resource abundance and diversity was high and nutritional stress should be low, suggesting higher levels of mortality than may be expected give our current understanding” of survival strategies of the period, the authors write.
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