The remains of two infants, and one child that were estimated to be 11,500 years old, according to researchers were recovered in the oldest burial site ever discovered on North American soil.

The remains of three children, two infants and one child, were discovered in close proximity in Alaska and are the youngest human remains ever found within North America to date. On Monday, a paper was published that detailed the accounts of Ben Potter and his research team, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The remains that were located dated back some-11,500-years, and were indicative of not just one burial, but multiple burials all taking place at separate dates and times.

The first remains that were located were the bones of a child who died shortly after birth. The researchers categorized the discovery as “the bones of a late-term fetus,” and noted that the child was likely part of a burial ritual that was specific for the location and group of people. These remains were located a little more than a foot or 15-inches, below a heart where a 3-year-old child was cremated. Another infant was also buried in a similar fashion at the same location whose remains were also located during the excavation process.

The importance of the findings aren’t nearly as much focused on the raw findings, though. While finding children, or discovering children is somewhat rare, it’s even rarer to find burial sites – much less being able to gain an insight, or understanding to how the burials took place. Brian Robinson, and anthropologist at the University of Maine noted that “Child burials are exceedingly rare,” and noted that to this point – this is the best evidence that has ever been recovered from a site where a child, or children were buried ritualistically.

They did go on to note that the two infants were likely buried together, and the completeness of the skeleton gave the researchers an opportunity to get a picture into what the ritual of laying the child to rest might have looked like. Something many scientists have been struggling to answer throughout the years. The child was laid to rest on its back, the knees flexed slightly, and the arms folded over the chest of the infant. According to the researchers, their prediction was that the infant was less than 20 weeks old when the child passed.

There were some tools and pieces buried with the children, like a knife, antler rods, and dart tips as well. While researchers can’t validate with 100% certainty what the gender of the children were until the remains are tested, they believe they were females. An interesting note was that scientists might have exhumed the older infant, to bury the fetus – who died later – but was between 28-40 weeks along. The fetus was buried and wrapped in a similar way to the older child, but this reveals that there was a definitive method for burying children who passed.

As far as findings across all of earth – this isn’t the oldest discovery, but this is by far one of the highest-quality discoveries that have been made to date. This has given scientists a significant insight as to how burial went with small children with the earliest examples of modern human life.

Source: National Science Foundation

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