KEY POINTS

  • Archaeologists discovered a "rare" child burial site from the early Holocene period
  • The remains revealed that the child's arms and legs had been removed before internment
  • The discovery sheds light into how the people of the time buried their dead children

Archaeologists discovered an 8,000-year-old child burial site that's considered rare and "one-of-its-kind." The site revealed a child with their arm and leg bones removed, showing the kind of rituals that the early humans practiced at the time.

How did human ancestors from 8,000 years ago bury the children who died? This is what archaeologists from Australian National University (ANU) got a glimpse of in their discovery of a rare child burial site in Alor Island in Indonesia.

The child buried at the site had been between four and eight years old. Age was estimated based on the teeth, which were of a six- to eight-year-old child, and the skeleton, which was of a four- to five-year-old child, the news release from ANU explained.

Why there is a discrepancy between the teeth and skeleton is unclear, but Dr. Samper Carro's previous work also revealed that even the skulls of adult hunter-gatherers were actually small.

"We want to do some further paleo-health research to find out if this smaller skeleton is related to diet or the environment or possibly to being genetically isolated on an island," Dr. Samper Carro said.

The researchers also revealed some details about the ritual or ceremony that had been done for the child.

Apart from the pigment that was applied to the cheeks and forehead, they also found that the child's leg and arm bones had been removed. This is something that has been observed in other burials of of the time, the news release explained, but Dr. Samper Carro noted that this was the first time that it was seen in a child's burial.

Why they did this, however, remains unclear.

"We don't know why long bone removal was practised, but it's likely some aspect of the belief system of the people who lived at this time," Dr. Samper Carro said.

As study lead Dr. Sofia Samper Carro explained in the ANU news release, there were more child burials from 3,000 years ago but not from the early Holocene period.

"Child burials are very rare and this complete burial is the only one from this time period," Dr. Samper Carro said.

With the discovery of this child burial site, the researchers now have a glimpse of the kind of burials that the people of the time might have done for their dead children. Such discoveries also add to the understanding of the cultures of the time.

"Mortuary contexts in geographical and chronological settings such as islands are key to investigating human migration pathways, population replacements, diet, health, occupational activities, belief systems as well as other aspects of social behaviour," the researchers wrote.

The study is published in Quaternary International.