An Ancient Baby Skeleton Was Found Buried In A Jar, But Why?

An Ancient Baby Skeleton Was Found Buried In A Jar, But Why?


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Israeli archaeologists excavating in Jaffa have made further discoveries beneath the streets of this ancient Greek settlement, but this time, they’ve discovered a baby’s skeleton buried in a jar!

Back To The Mother’s Womb Or Mother Earth?

Jaffa is an ancient town in southern Tel Aviv and recent archaeological work has determined it was one of the oldest ports in the world, with origins dating to 4,000 years ago. Researchers recently presented several artifacts representing the city's Greek roots , but now they’ve discovered a 3,800-year-old baby skeleton in a jar.

It’s a mystery why the baby’s skeleton was found in a jar in Jaffa in Israel. Source: Yoav Arbel/Israel Antiquities Authority

Professor Yoav Arbel, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority , says no matter how shocking this discovery sounds, “such infant burials are not so uncommon.” However, the doctor says it remains a mystery why the infants were buried in this curious way. Arbel told Live Science that an obvious interpretation is that the children’s bodies were so fragile their loved ones may have attempted to protect them from the environment.

Example of a baby skeleton found in a jar burial in Ashkelon, Israel. ( B. Doak )

But the jar was shaped “like a womb,” so the researcher thinks the deceased’s family might have attempted to return the child to the “bosom of Mother Earth,” or symbolically, “back into protection of his mother,” said Arbel.

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An Explanation Why the Baby’s Skeleton was Found in a Jar

The discovery of the baby skeleton in a jar was detailed in the 100th issue of the journal Atiqot, which comes only a week after the last publication detailing Jaffa’s continuous occupation for four millennia. Over the last decade a wide range of artifacts have informed researchers of the town’s Hellenistic Greek origins through to the Crusader and Ottoman periods. Excavators have so far discovered 30 coins, at least two horses, pottery, 95 glass vessel fragments , 232 seashells, land snails, and three mother-of-pearl buttons.

Some of the coins discovered during the excavations at Jaffa in Israel. ( Clara Amit/IAA )

Speaking of the baby skeleton in the jar, Dr. Arbel said people in Israel buried their children like this in different time periods - extending from the Bronze Age all the way to only a century ago. Known formerly as “Jar burials,” according to Dr. Alfredo Mederos Martin, who was not involved in the new study, this style of burying children was practiced all over the ancient world as early as 4500 BC. Dr. Martin says the different methods of performing this burial practice change from place to place and this reflects changing concepts of the death event.

There Was Little Rest For Palestinian Buried Babies

According to the 2011 paper Funerary Iconography on an Infant Burial Jar from Ashkelon , jar burials in ancient Palestine were buried under floors in rooms of the house in which the child had lived. Specifically, they were buried mostly in “high traffic areas where household tasks were performed, thus connecting them with the main parts of everyday life.”

Ashkelon infant burial jar in situ. Doak )

Professor Beth Alpert Nakhai of the University of Arizona explored infant jar burials in her 2011 article “Baby Burials in the Middle Bronze Age,” published in the Biblical Archaeology Review . This researcher said archaeologists in the Holy Land have found many infant jar burials throughout ancient Canaan and that “the custom reached its zenith in the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1550 BC).”

Explaining “why” children and babies were buried in jars in the ancient world, Dr. Nakhai, said infant mortality rates were high and that “a third of children died before their first birthday, and almost half died before their fifth birthday.” Dr. Nakhai believes that the placement of infant jar burials within the home reflects “a desire on the part of dead infant’s mother to care for her child in death, as she would have cared for that child in life.”

Furthermore, being so young, these young children hadn't undergone rites of initiation or integration: meaning they were “not yet viewed as full members of society.” Therefore, this specific method of burial was perhaps to “keep them protected and close to home.” Alternatively, as is suggested in the new paper by Dr. Arbel that the jar represented the womb of Mother Earth, to which the children returned.


Why Were These Ancient Adults Buried in Jars on the Island of Corsica?

Archaeologists say the skeletons are in an "average state" of preservation. (© Pascal Druelle / INRAP)

smithsonianmag.com
April 15, 2021 7:00AM

In spring 2019, researchers from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) found evidence of ancient tombs on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Now, after resuming digging at the site, archaeologists have discovered a necropolis containing around 40 burials dated to between the third and sixth centuries A.D.

As Amanda Morrow reports for Radio France Internationale (RFI), scholars began excavating a pair of 6,458-square-foot sites in the center of Île Rousse, a village on the western coast of the island, in late February. They uncovered ceramic fragments and bones, many of which were interred in imported amphorae, or jars used mainly for transporting wine and olive oil.

The new finds shed light on the region’s history prior to Île Rousse’s establishment in the mid-18th century. Until now, “archaeological evidence of previous occupation [in the area] was rare and fragmentary,” notes INRAP in a statement, per a translation by RFI.

Île Rousse’s ancient inhabitants buried their dead in a variety of ways: Some of the tombs were cut directly into rock, while others were outfitted with terracotta materials, such as flat Roman tiles known as tegulae and rounded roofing tiles called imbrices. The majority of the remains were placed in amphorae scattered across the two sites. Per the statement, one individual was actually entombed in a set of nested amphorae.

The practice of burying babies in jars dates back to the Bronze Age and continued until as recently as the 20th century, Yoav Arbel, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority who was not involved in the recent excavation, told Live Science’s Laura Geggel last December. (Arbel was part of a team that discovered one such 3,800-year-old burial in the Israeli city of Jaffa.)

Though evidence of such funerary rituals appears regularly in the archaeological record, scholars remain unsure of the practice’s purpose. As INRAP points out, amphora burials were typically reserved for infants and children, but the Île Rousse necropolis contains multiple adults who were laid to rest in the large, cylindrical vessels.

Ancient craftspeople probably manufactured the amphorae in Africa. Between the fourth and seventh centuries A.D., Corsica’s inhabitants imported amphorae containing wine, olive oil and brine from Carthage, a city in what is now Tunisia, according to the statement.

INRAP researchers are still determining the ages of the skeletons, which they say are in an “average state” of preservation, per RFI. No funerary offerings or goods were found buried alongside the deceased.

The area where archaeologists discovered the remains has been occupied for thousands of years. As the Île Rousse commune’s official website states, Phoenician colonists christened the coastal city Agilla around 1000 B.C. when Rome conquered Corsica in the third century B.C., Agilla was renamed Rubico Rosega.

Following the Roman Empire’s fall in 410 A.D., the city was all but abandoned. It served as a haven for smugglers and fishermen in the centuries preceding Île Rousse’s establishment, according to the History Blog.

Archaeologists are unsure exactly which group buried the ancient remains, but as RFI reports, ongoing research on the island may offer new insights on its long-ago inhabitants.


Why bury people in jars?

The ceramic jars, or “amphorae”, are “mostly African productions, which were the predominant imports in Corsica between 4th and 7th century AD,” according to an INRAP statement. The vessels held wine but also liquids such as olive oil and brine from Tunisia.

The excavation of the site (Photo Credit: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP via Getty Images)

The archaeologists noted that the direction the bodies are buried in “generally favors an east-west axis with the heads of the deceased to the west.”

Why were the ancient people laid to rest in this intriguing way? Ultimately, experts don’t know. A ritual is one assumption to be made — though there’s a distinct lack of offerings or other evidence to flesh out a spiritual context.

It should also be pointed out that the site is close to the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The next stage is to seek out a temple or other structure that might be connected to the necropolis.


Why Were These Ancient Adults Buried in Jars on the Island of Corsica?

In spring 2019, researchers from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) found evidence of ancient tombs on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Now, after resuming digging at the site, archaeologists have discovered a necropolis containing around 40 burials dated to between the third and sixth centuries A.D.

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As Amanda Morrow reports for Radio France Internationale (RFI), scholars began excavating a pair of 6,458-square-foot sites in the center of Île Rousse, a village on the western coast of the island, in late February. They uncovered ceramic fragments and bones, many of which were interred in imported amphorae, or jars used mainly for transporting wine and olive oil.

The new finds shed light on the region’s history prior to Île Rousse’s establishment in the mid-18th century. Until now, “archaeological evidence of previous occupation [in the area] was rare and fragmentary,” notes INRAP in a statement, per a translation by RFI.

Île Rousse’s ancient inhabitants buried their dead in a variety of ways: Some of the tombs were cut directly into rock, while others were outfitted with terracotta materials, such as flat Roman tiles known as tegulae and rounded roofing tiles called imbrices. The majority of the remains were placed in amphorae scattered across the two sites. Per the statement, one individual was actually entombed in a set of nested amphorae.

The practice of burying babies in jars dates back to the Bronze Age and continued until as recently as the 20th century, Yoav Arbel, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority who was not involved in the recent excavation, told Live Science’s Laura Geggel last December. (Arbel was part of a team that discovered one such 3,800-year-old burial in the Israeli city of Jaffa.)

An archaeologist cleans and examines one of the burial vessels. (© Pascal Druelle / INRAP) Corsica's ancient residents probably imported the amphorae from Africa. (© Pascal Druelle / INRAP) Aerial view of the archaeological site (© Pascal Druelle / INRAP)

Though evidence of such funerary rituals appears regularly in the archaeological record, scholars remain unsure of the practice’s purpose. As INRAP points out, amphora burials were typically reserved for infants and children, but the Île Rousse necropolis contains multiple adults who were laid to rest in the large, cylindrical vessels.

Ancient craftspeople probably manufactured the amphorae in Africa. Between the fourth and seventh centuries A.D., Corsica’s inhabitants imported amphorae containing wine, olive oil and brine from Carthage, a city in what is now Tunisia, according to the statement.

INRAP researchers are still determining the ages of the skeletons, which they say are in an “average state” of preservation, per RFI. No funerary offerings or goods were found buried alongside the deceased.

The area where archaeologists discovered the remains has been occupied for thousands of years. As the Île Rousse commune’s official website states, Phoenician colonists christened the coastal city Agilla around 1000 B.C. when Rome conquered Corsica in the third century B.C., Agilla was renamed Rubico Rosega.

Following the Roman Empire’s fall in 410 A.D., the city was all but abandoned. It served as a haven for smugglers and fishermen in the centuries preceding Île Rousse’s establishment, according to the History Blog.

Archaeologists are unsure exactly which group buried the ancient remains, but as RFI reports, ongoing research on the island may offer new insights on its long-ago inhabitants.


3,800-year-old baby in a jar found in Israel

A 3,800-year-old jar containing something shocking has been discovered by archaeologists in Israel — the skeleton of a baby. While such burials of infants are not so uncommon, it is a mystery why the infants were buried this way, said Yoav Arbel, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who was part of the team that found the jar.

Archaeologists found an infant jar burial about 10 feet (3 meters) under street level in Jaffa, which dated to the Middle Bronze Age II.

Arbel told Live Science, “You might go to the practical thing and say that the bodies were so fragile, [maybe] they felt the need to protect it from the environment, even though it is dead,”

“But there’s always the interpretation that the jar is almost like a womb, so basically the idea is to return [the] baby back into Mother Earth, or into the symbolic protection of his mother.”

The 4,000-year-old city of Jaffa, where the jar was found, is the older part of Tel Aviv, the second most populated city in Israel after Jerusalem. It was one of the earliest port cities in the world, and has been almost continuously occupied since about 900 B.C., Arbel said.

A stone with a cross discovered in a Persian period cemetery located in Jaffa.

“We’re talking about a city that was ruled by a lot of different people,” Arbel said. “Let’s say that a lot of flags flew from its mast before Israel’s flag of today.”

Despite how strange the baby burial seems to modern eyes, it’s not an unusual find for the region.

“There are different periods when people buried infants in jars in Israel,” Arbel said. “The Bronze Age all the way to less than 100 years ago.”

The finds were detailed in the 100th issue of the journal Atiqot, which includes more than 50 other studies on archaeology from Jaffa.

A roof tile with a bear stamp found in Jaffa.

Because Jaffa has been almost continuously used for four millennia, the other finds described in the journal span the Hellenistic, Crusader and Ottoman periods.

For instance, at another site, Arbel and his team found a big rubbish pit brimming with pieces of imported amphorae (ceramic vessels) dating to the Hellenistic period, from the fourth to the first centuries B.C.

These roughly 2,300-year-old amphorae, which were used to hold wine, were crafted on various Greek Aegean Islands such as Rhodes and Kos, Arbel said. This one pit provides more evidence that trade routes between Jaffa and Greece were robust, Arbel said.

An early Byzantine period mosaic written in Greek from Jaffa saying, in essence, “That’s life!”

Archaeologists also found: 30 coins dating to the Hellenistic, Crusader (12th–13th centuries), late Ottoman (late 18th–early 20th centuries) and British Mandate (1942) periods the remains of at least two horses and pottery dating to the Ottoman Empire 95 glass vessel fragments from Roman and Crusader times and 232 seashells, including those from the Mediterranean Sea, land snails and three mother-of-pearl buttons.

There’s also the witty, ancient Greek mosaic discovered near an A.D. fourth- or fifth-century necropolis, saying “Be of good courage, all who are buried here. This is it!”

In essence, it means “this is life!” and that death is everyone’s shared destiny, said Zvi Greenhut, head of the publication department at the IAA, told Live Science.


This Ancient 10-Year-Old Received a ‘Vampire Burial’ to Prevent Return From the Dead

According to contemporary myth, it takes a specific set of tools to successfully battle a vampire: amongst other items, a wooden stake ideal for driving through the undead creature’s chest, a clove of garlic designed to repel evil, and sacred relics ranging from crosses to crucifixes.

But the recent discovery of a malaria-stricken 10-year-old buried in a 5th-century Roman graveyard suggests that vampire-fighting strategies weren’t always so complex. As Josh Gabbatiss reports for The Independent, the child was laid to rest with a stone inserted into its mouth, marking the grave a so-called “vampire burial” site likely intended to prevent the deceased from returning to life and infecting others with a deadly disease.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” University of Arizona archaeologist David Soren said in a statement. “It’s extremely eerie and weird.”

Science Alert ’s Michelle Starr writes that researchers unearthed the skeleton at the ominously named La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, earlier this year. The graveyard, which is situated atop the foundations of an abandoned 1st-century villa in Lugnano, Italy, has previously yielded the bones of dozens of children buried during the mid-5th century—a period when malaria devastated central Italy and its vulnerable population of infants and toddlers.

The “vampire” skeleton was one of five sets of remains identified during the latest round of excavations. According to Gabbatiss, its sex remains unclear, but an abscessed tooth points to malaria as the cause of death, and inspection of the remaining molars places the child’s age at 10 years old. Tooth marks found on the surface of the stone and the open position of the jaws support the archaeologists’ belief that the rock was intentionally placed in the child’s mouth to ensure it remained entrapped in the grave.

This isn’t the first time researchers have documented unusual burial practices at the Cemetery of the Babies. Suman Varandani of The International Business Times notes that previous excavations have revealed raven talons, toad bones and even bronze cauldrons filled with the body parts of ritually sacrificed puppies. As Soren wrote in a 1996 report, the jumbled remains of at least 12 puppies and a solitary 1-year-old dog, some with their heads or mandibles missing, were interred alongside the bones of the malaria victims.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the 10-year-old isn’t the first cemetery resident to reflect the living’s fear of the return of the dead. A 3-year-old girl found at the site was buried with stones weighing down her hands and feet—a practice that Starr notes has long been employed as a preventative measure by cultures across the globe.

Prior to the discovery of the 10-year-old, who was found lying on their left side in a makeshift tomb covered by two roof tiles, the 3-year-old was the graveyard’s oldest known inhabitant, leaving scientists to conclude that the site was reserved for infants and toddlers. Now, they suspect otherwise, though they’ll have to wait for next summer’s round of excavations to confirm this hypothesis.

According to a statement by University of Arizona archaeologist Jordan Wilson, the practice of burying individuals with rocks or similarly heavy objects in their mouths is evident “in various forms in different cultures,” but especially in ancient Rome.

Back in 2009, an elderly 16th-century woman dubbed the “ Vampire of Venice” was found buried in a plague pit with a brick in her mouth. And just last year, a 3rd- or 4th-century adult male was found in Northamptonshire, England, with his tongue cut out and replaced by a stone. As Science Alert’s Starr writes, these “vampire burials” don’t quite match up with modern-day conceptions of Dracula and other popular bloodsuckers. Instead, they represent a fear of the diseases that wiped out communities and threatened to return with a vengeance.

"It's a very human thing to have complicated feelings about the dead and wonder if that's really the end," Wilson concludes. "Anytime you can look at burials, they're significant because they provide a window into ancient minds. We have a saying in bioarchaeology: 'The dead don't bury themselves.' We can tell a lot about people's beliefs and hopes and by the way they treat the dead."


Shrouded in time

Mtoto’s grave was found in Panga ya Saidi, a massive cave system sprawled along an escarpment paralleling the Kenyan coast. The system has been under excavation since 2010 by a team led by the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.

So far the site has yielded tens of thousands of stone tools, shell beads, butchered animal remains, and other artifacts, offering testimony to a continuum of human use from the present day to 80,000 years ago during a period in Africa known as the Middle Stone Age.

“This site was always conducive to occupation,” says Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute. “People never completely disappeared.”

In 2013 the team discovered a pit-like structure some 10 feet below the present floor of the cave. Further work in 2017 revealed what appeared to be decomposed bone. The powdery material proved too fragile to excavate in the field, so the team decided to encase the bones and surrounding sediment in a plaster cast and transport the block to Nairobi for further study.

Thus began a remarkable post-mortem journey. Initial excavation at the National Museum’s lab revealed two teeth near the surface of the block that appeared to be human.

“We knew then we were into something big,” says Emmanuel Ndiema, head of the museum’s archaeology department and a member of the research team. “But the specimen was extremely delicate, beyond our capacity to prepare it.”

Ndiema personally delivered the fossil to colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Jena. From there it traveled to the National Research Center on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos, Spain. The specimen underwent more than a year of preparation and analysis, using micro-computed tomography, optical microscopy, and other non-invasive imaging techniques, as well as manual excavation when the delicate state of the bones allowed.

Gradually the full import of the specimen emerged: first an articulated spine, then the base of a skull, then the lower jawbone and juvenile teeth roots. In another section of the block, the team found ribs and shoulder bones in their natural anatomical positions.

“Everything was in place,” says CENIEH director María Martinón-Torres, who led the research. “It was not just some fossil. We have a body. We have a child.”

Besides the articulated state of the skeleton, several other lines of evidence suggested that the child had been purposefully buried soon after its death. The sediments within the pit were clearly different from the surrounding sediments, and they contained an abundance of shells and tracks from snails that feed on earthworms found around corpses buried in bare earth.

Geochemical analysis also revealed chemicals in the soil produced by the action of flesh-eating bacteria, which accounted for the highly decomposed state of the bones. As the flesh and organs of the child decomposed, the spaces left behind gradually filled with sediment, so that the rib cage retained its three-dimensional shape. But the upper ribs had rotated 90 degrees, which would occur if the body had been closely packed into the pit or, more likely, tightly swathed in a shroud of some material, perhaps animal skin or large leaves, that had long since decomposed.

Finally, the position of the head and cervical vertebrae in relation to the body indicated that the shrouded child had been laid to rest with its head on some sort of pillow—a poignant moment in the life of an early human community, one that the team captured just before all traces of the child’s remains vanished.

“The bones were literally turning to powder,” says Martinón-Torres. “We arrived just in time, before they finally disappeared.”


12,000-year-old baby DNA unlocks clues to earliest Americans

The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago has been recovered, and it provides new indications of the ancient roots of today's American Indians and other native peoples of the Americas.

It's the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World. Artifacts found with the body show the boy was part of the Clovis culture, which existed in North America from about 13,000 years ago to about 12,600 years ago and is named for an archaeological site near Clovis, N.M.

The DNA indicates the boy's ancestors came from Asia, supporting the standard idea of ancient migration to the Americas by way of a land bridge that disappeared long ago.

The boy's genome also showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today's native peoples in the Americas, researchers said. He was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada. The reason for that difference isn't clear, scientists said.

Historic photos of Native Americans 24 photos The researchers said they had no Native American DNA from the United States available for comparison, but that they assume the results would be same, with some Native Americans being direct descendants and others also closely related.


Lost Native American Ancestor Revealed in Ancient Child’s DNA

Study of 11,500-year-old bones offer surprising clues about the origins of New World genetic diversity.

A baby girl who lived some 11,500 years ago survived for just six weeks in the harsh climate of central Alaska, but her brief life is providing a surprising and challenging wealth of information to modern researchers.

Her genome is the oldest-yet complete genetic profile of a New World human. But if that isn’t enough, her genes also reveal the existence of a previously unknown population of people who are related to—but older and genetically distinct from— modern Native Americans.

This new information helps sketch in more details about how, when, and where the ancestors of all Native Americans became a distinct group, and how they may have dispersed into and throughout the New World.

The baby’s DNA showed that she belonged to a population that was genetically separate from other native groups present elsewhere in the New World at the end of the Pleistocene. Ben Potter, the University of Alaska Fairbanks archaeologist who unearthed the remains at the Upward River Sun site in 2013 , named this new group “Ancient Beringians.”

The discovery of the baby’s bones, named Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay, or Sunrise Child-Girl in a local Athabascan language, was completely unexpected, as were the genetic results, Potter says.

Found in 2006 and accessible only by helicopter, the Upward River Sun site is located in the dense boreal forest of central Alaska’s Tanana River Valley. The encampment was buried under feet of sand and silt, an acidic environment that makes the survival of organic artifacts exceedingly rare. Potter previously excavated the cremated remains of a three-year-old child from a hearth pit in the encampment, and it was beneath this first burial that the six-week-old baby and a second, even younger infant were found.

A genomics team in Denmark, including University of Copenhagen geneticist Eske Willerslev, performed the sequencing work on the remains, comparing the child’s genome with the genes of 167 ancient and contemporary populations from around the world. The results appeared today in the journal Nature.

Oldest Human Skeleton in Americas Found in Underwater Cave

“We didn’t know this population even existed,” Potter says. “Now we know they were here for many thousands of years, and that they were really successful. How did they do it? How did they change? We now have examples of two genetic groups of people who were adapting to this very harsh landscape.”

The genetic analysis points towards a divergence of all ancient Native Americans from a single east Asian source population somewhere between 36,000 to 25,000 years ago—well before humans crossed into Beringia, an area that includes the land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska at the end of the last ice age. That means that somewhere along the way, either in eastern Asia or in Beringia itself, a group of people became isolated from other east Asians for about 10,000 years, long enough to become a unique strain of humanity.

The girl’s genome also shows that the Beringians became genetically distinct from all other Native Americans around 20,000 years ago. But since humans in North America are not reliably documented before 14,600 years ago, how and where these two groups could have been separated long enough to become genetically distinct is still unclear.

The new study posits two new possibilities for how the separation could have happened.

The first is that the two groups became isolated while still in east Asia, and that they crossed the land bridge separately—perhaps at different times, or using different routes.

A second theory is that a single group moved out of Asia, then split into Beringians and ancient Native Americans once in Beringia. The Beringians lingered in the west and interior of Alaska, while the ancestors of modern Native Americans continued on south some time around 15,700 years ago.

“It’s less like a tree branching out and more like a delta of streams and rivers that intersect and then move apart,” says Miguel Vilar, lead scientist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project. “Twenty years ago, we thought the peopling of America seemed quite simple, but then it turns out to be more complicated than anyone thought.”

John Hoffecker, who studies the paleoecology of Beringia at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says there is still plenty of room for debate about the geographic locations of the ancestral splits. But the new study fits well with where the thinking has been heading for the last decade, he adds.

“We think there was a great deal more diversity in the original Native American populations than is apparent today, so this is consistent with a lot of other evidence,” Hoffecker says.

However, that same diversity—revealed through research on Native American cranial morphology and tooth structure—creates its own dilemma. How does a relatively small group of New World migrants, barricaded by a challenging climate with no access to fresh genetic material, evolve such a deep bank of differences from their east Asian ancestors? It certainly doesn’t happen over just 15,000 years, Hoffecker insists, referring to the estimated date of divergence of ancient Native Americans from Beringians.

“We’ve been getting these signals of early divergence for decades—the first mitochondrial work in the 1990s from Native Americans were coming up with estimates of 30, 35, even 40,000 years ago,” Hoffecker says. “They were being dismissed by everybody, myself included. Then people began to suspect there were two dates: one for divergence, and one for dispersal, and this study supports that.”

“Knowing about the Beringians really informs us as to how complex the process of human migration and adaptation was,” adds Potter. “It prompts the scientist in all of us to ask better questions, and to be in awe of our capacity as a species to come into such a harsh area and be very successful.”


Mysterious burials

So far, the archaeological team has carefully studied three of the innumerable megalithic "jar sites" throughout northern Laos. For the new study they focused on the best-known of all of the sites, called Site 1, which is located just west of Phonsavan, and is one of 11 listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It contains around 400 stone jars scattered across more than 60 acres (24 hectares).

The stone jars themselves are difficult to date accurately a renowned French archaeologist, Madeleine Colani, reported in 1935 that she had found human remains in some of them, but modern archaeologists have not found datable human bones or teeth in any of the stone jars.

They have found evidence of three different types of burials at the jar sites, however — primary burials, where a full human skeleton was laid out secondary burials, where bundles of human bones were interred and burials in small ceramic jars that were then marked by distinctive quartz boulders on the surface. The buried ceramic jars are quite different from the massive stone jars above the ground such jar burials were a relatively common form of burial in parts of Asia at different times.

But radiocarbon dating of the human remains from the ceramic jars and other burials suggest most of them were interred between the ninth and 13th centuries — between 700 and 1,200 years ago — which would make them much younger than the stone jars themselves.


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