A body burned inside a hut 20,000 years ago signaled shifting views of death

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A body burned inside a hut 20,000 years ago signaled shifting views of death

Linking the dead with human-built structures may have brought the dead and living closer


Charred remains of a woman (pictured) found amid burned remnants of a hut at a Jordanian site indicate that her dead body was placed there for an unusual burial event about 19,200 years ago.
L. MAHER, D. MACDONALD, EFAP ARCHIVE


By Bruce Bower
FEBRUARY 16, 2021 AT 8:00 AM

Middle Eastern hunter-gatherers changed their relationship with the dead nearly 20,000 years ago. Clues to that spiritual shift come from the discovery of an ancient woman’s fiery burial in a hut at a seasonal campsite.

Burials of people in houses or other structures, as well as cremations, are thought to have originated in Neolithic-period farming villages in and around the Middle East no earlier than about 10,000 years ago. But those treatments of the dead appear to have had roots in long-standing practices of hunter-gatherers, says a team led by archaeologists Lisa Maher of the University of California, Berkeley and Danielle Macdonald of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

The new find suggests that people started to associate the dead with particular structures at a time when groups of hunter-gatherers were camping for part of each year at a hunting and trading site in eastern Jordan. A budding desire to link the dead with human-built structures possibly reflected a belief that by doing so the dead would remain close to the living, the scientists report in the March Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Excavations at the ancient site, now called Kharaneh IV, in 2016 revealed a woman’s partial, charred skeleton on the floor of a hut that had been lit on fire. Her body had been placed on its side with knees flexed. Analyses of charring patterns on her bones and burned sediment surrounding her remains suggest the woman’s body was placed inside the hut just before the brushwood structure was intentionally burned. Charcoal- and ash-rich sediment borders where the hut once stood, a sign that the fire was confined to the structure. The hut’s walls apparently fell inward after being set ablaze.

Radiocarbon-dated samples from the earthen floor near the woman’s remains date her interment to around 19,200 years ago.

Several Neolithic sites contain examples of the dead having been placed in or under burned houses, as well as instances of bodies that were intentionally burned after death, says archaeologist Peter Akkermans of Leiden University, who did not participate in the new research. β€œThe work at Kharaneh IV now dates these practices to more than 10,000 years earlier, in wholly different cultural settings of hunter-gatherer communities versus Neolithic farming villages.”

Other social developments traditionally attributed to Neolithic farmers, including year-round settlements (SN: 8/30/10) and pottery making (SN: 6/28/12), first appeared among hunter-gatherers.

Remains of at least three other huts have been found at Kharaneh IV, including one with graves beneath the floor that contained two human skeletons (SN: 2/22/12). That roughly 19,400-year-old hut was also burned down, possibly when the site’s occupants stopped using it but not as part of a human burial event.

The new discovery at Kharaneh IV β€œlinks the death of a person and the destruction or death of a building as part of a funerary rite,” Maher says. Perhaps the hut was where the woman or her family lived, or perhaps she died there and the structure was deemed off-limits, she suggests. Either way, Kharaneh IV was occupied for several generations after the woman’s death, until roughly 18,600 years ago, so establishing a permanent place for her may have been considered important.

Meanings and beliefs that Kharaneh IV residents attributed to burning a hut in which a dead woman’s body had been placed are still a mystery, Maher says. The use of fire in that event might have signified some type of transformation, rebirth, cleansing or life-and-death cycle, she suggests.

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at feedback@sciencenews.org

CITATIONS
L. Maher et al. Life, death, and the destruction of architecture: Hunter-gatherer mortuary behaviors in prehistoric Jordan. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Vol. 61, March 2021, 101262. doi: 10.1016/j.jaa.2020.101262.


@Panzerhund @Gian @Oystein @Kalli @CMcGillicutty @JR_Rustler_III @ex_machina @BillGud @Jebal_Dokundy @rouse @Coltraine
 

Panzerhund

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Holy crap......are you saying there was a holocaust 20k years ago?


Excavations at the ancient site, now called Kharaneh IV, in 2016 revealed a woman’s partial, charred skeleton on the floor of a hut that had been lit on fire. Her body had been placed on its side with knees flexed. Analyses of charring patterns on her bones and burned sediment surrounding her remains suggest the woman’s body was placed inside the hut just before the brushwood structure was intentionally burned. Charcoal- and ash-rich sediment borders where the hut once stood, a sign that the fire was confined to the structure. The hut’s walls apparently fell inward after being set ablaze.
It definitely appears it was done as an intentional burial ceremony as opposed to an attack on a settlement.

What's interesting is they left the remains intact where they were burned. I would of thought they would want to collect the remains.
 

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You know, I've heard of this sort of thing. Back in the middle east around 22000- 18000 years ago, they were said to have just settled down and started pursuing agriculture, mostly millet type grains and hunting/gathering still played a large part. The villages were very small in those times, maybe consisting of small families. As far as I know, the burials held the founding family at the time were done directly under the huts, like right below the floor. The descendants of those people lived on top of them.. they may have even dug them up from time to time and given them gifts and celebrations before reburying them under the floors - though of course that part is still heavily debated.

The religious beliefs of that place and time are extremely interesting, since it was the beginning of civilization there are a lot of really strange beliefs that happened in fairly close proximity to one another but seem to be completely alien in comparison. About 400 miles away, there was an old bird cult or something along those lines.. the burials didn't happen at all. Instead of burial, there was a ceremonial open air chamber where bodies of the dead were left for the birds to eat. It was in close proximity to a communal threshing area, where it is thought that the small village would thresh grains together and sing ceremonial songs.
This place met a violent end, all of the remains of the place were charred and a skeleton of a roughly fifteen year old girl was found in the temple area with cuts on her bones. It is thought that she was a priestess who died violently at the last moments of her city.

This whole area is a really cool place, especially during this time period.
 

Vitamin-KKK

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Holy crap......are you saying there was a holocaust 20k years ago?
We can find clear physical evidence of a single body burned 20,000 years ago but evidence of millions burned a few decades ago is much too daunting an archaeological task.
 

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The religious beliefs of that place and time are extremely interesting, since it was the beginning of civilization there are a lot of really strange beliefs that happened in fairly close proximity to one another but seem to be completely alien in comparison. About 400 miles away, there was an old bird cult or something along those lines.. the burials didn't happen at all. Instead of burial, there was a ceremonial open air chamber where bodies of the dead were left for the birds to eat. It was in close proximity to a communal threshing area, where it is thought that the small village would thresh grains together and sing ceremonial songs.
The TRVE Aryan Persians placed their dead on mountains in "sky burials" where they slowly got eaten. Apparently the belief was that soil and water would become unclean if a body was buried in the ground. The Zoroastrian religion was founded 20.000 years later, so there is probably no connection, but it could be that the motivation was the same. Maybe the ancient people started the tradition after some groundwater was contaminated by unsafe burials.
 

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it sounds like bullshit, they can't determine how her body was placed 1000s of years ago

how do they know it wasn't an accident?
it's just a lot of speculation
 

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They're just leaving out the cigar butt found in her hand.
 

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There is evidence that Neanderthals were burying their dead the better part of 100,000 years ago too. Of course, it's hotly debated, was this symbolic and spiritualistic, or was this perhaps just a way to ward off scavengers.

There is also evidence that the same Neanderthals who buried their dead, to the best of their ability, cared for the disabled among them to a degree. At the Shanidar cave in Iraq, where these burials have been found, one of the specimens found, dubbed Shanidar 1, was thought to have beed aged 30-45 years at death, which at that time made him an outlier on the older end of the age spectrum observed in Neanderthals. He was severely disabled. He suffered a blow to the skull which probably left him blind in one eye. He was thought to have been mostly deaf due to abnormalities observed in his ear canals, and one forearm had been amputated. But all these wounds showed signs of healing, to a degree. He would have been incapable of fending for himself, so he had to have been nursed and fed by other Neanderthals. So he has been construed as evidence of compassion and altruism among the Shanidar Neanderthals, who appear to have also buried other members or their group.


It may not have been totally one sided depending on how complex Neanderthal communication skills were. It's possible his experience in old age guided younger members of his group in hunting and gathering, also depending on the level of hearing loss he sustained.
 

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The TRVE Aryan Persians placed their dead on mountains in "sky burials" where they slowly got eaten.
@Oystein @Kalli

So-called "towers of silence" where such rites were carried are not in use in Persia proper anymore (due to the country having been converted to the Moslem cult), but some are still active in India, where a small community of Zoroastrians, locally known as Parsis, still survives:

1614157206070.png
 

Craniology

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The TRVE Aryan Persians placed their dead on mountains in "sky burials" where they slowly got eaten.
I was going to comment on that.
The Zoroastrians give their bodies to the vultures as a final donation in this world and their bones get fulminated by the sun light after the vultures devouring the flesh from it.
it sounds like bullshit, they can't determine how her body was placed 1000s of years ago
At least the dating technique is trustable.
There is evidence that Neanderthals were burying their dead the better part of 100,000 years ago too. Of course, it's hotly debated, was this symbolic and spiritualistic, or was this perhaps just a way to ward off scavengers.
A new book came out recently about this subject, I may find it later.
 
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