Paleontologists in South Africa have discovered probably the oldest burial site on Earth, containing the remains of a small-brained distant relative of humans previously thought incapable of complex behavior, Agence France-Presse reports.
In June, the scientists found several specimens of Homo naledi – a tree-climbing hominid from the Stone Age. The remains were discovered 30 meters underground in a cave system within the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Johannesburg.
According to the researchers, this is the oldest burial in the history of hominids, which preceded the first burials of Homo Sapiens by 100,000 years. The findings challenge the current understanding of human evolution, since it is believed that the development of a larger brain allows for complex tasks, such as the burial of the deceased.
The scientists believe the pits were deliberately dug and then filled in to cover the bodies. At least five individuals were buried there. These discoveries suggest that burial practices were not limited to Homo Sapiens and other hominins with large brains.
In addition, the complex behavior of Homo naledi is also confirmed by engravings forming geometrical shapes, which means that not only are humans not unique in the development of symbolic practices, but may not have even invented such behaviors.