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Stone Age Child’s Grave in Finland Reveals Surprises

The burial site of a child who lived 8,000 years ago has been discovered in eastern Finland, providing a rare glimpse into how Stone Age humans treated their dead.

Majoonsuo’s grave first came to the attention of researchers in 1992 in Outokumpu Prefecture, when bright red ocher, an iron-rich clay, was seen on the surface of a new forest service trail. Red ocher has long been associated with rock art, as well as ornamentation and burials.

The Finnish Heritage Agency began excavating the site in 2018 due to concerns about erosion and motorized traffic.

Little was found in the tomb, but the surrounding soil revealed its secrets in a recent microscopic analysis published in September in the scientific journal. PLOS One.

Stone Age Finnish societies buried their dead in pits in the ground. The soil is so acidic in Finland that little remains preserved after thousands of years, which means that traces of archaeological evidence are extremely rare.

A child’s teeth were found in the grave, as well as fragments of bird feathers, plant fibers and strands of canine hair after an analysis using a meticulous protocol to uncover the microscopic evidence.

Together, these clues paint a portrait of the deceased.

The researchers determined that the teeth belonged to a child between the ages of 3 and 10. Two quartz arrowheads and two other quartz objects, considered funerary goods, were also recovered.

About 24 small feather fragments were found, and seven of them were associated with waterfowl. They represent the oldest feather fragments ever found in Finland. It is possible that the child was laid to rest on a feather bed, or the child was wrapped in clothing made from waterfowl, such as an old parka or anorak.

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A hawk’s feather was also found in the grave, probably part of an arrow probably once attached to an arrowhead, or used as a decoration on a child’s clothing.

The fine hairs found on the child’s feet belonged to a dog or a wolf. It is possible that one was buried at the child’s feet, or the child was wearing shoes made from dog or wolf fur.

“Dogs buried with the dead have been found, for example, at Skateholm, a famous cemetery in southern Sweden that dates back about 7,000 years,” said study co-author Kristiina Mannermaa, a researcher and associate professor in the department of cultures at the University of Helsinki, in a statement.

“The discovery at Majoonsuo is sensational, although nothing is left but the fur of the animal or animals – not even teeth. We don’t even know if it’s a dog or a wolf. The method used demonstrates that traces of fur and feathers can be found even in tombs thousands of years old, including in Finland.”

The study’s lead author, Tuija Kirkinen, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of cultures at the University of Helsinki, carried out the analysis of plant and animal-based materials within the soil.

The team collected 60 bags of soil samples and carefully separated the organic matter from the soil using water. Three laboratories were used to search the samples for microparticles, fatty acids and perform a soil analysis. The soil, stained with red ocher, had to be gently sieved and studied closely with electron microscopes and high-resolution imaging.

She works on the Animals Make Identities project, led by Mannermaa. The research group studies “social bonds between humans and animals in hunter-gatherer cemeteries” in Northeast Europe. These links may reveal more information about the deceased, who lived between 7,500 and 9,000 years ago. Kirkinen’s work is focused on developing methods to search for the tiny remnants that help share ancient stories.

Kirkinen also found plant fibers that likely came from willows or nettles, which may have been used to make fishing nets, rope used to fasten clothes, or bundles of rope. The protocol she developed to search for fibers and fragments in the soil takes time, but it has paid off.

“The work is very slow and it really made my heart skip a beat when I found tiny fragments of ironed clothes and grave furniture, especially in Finland where all unburned bones tend to decompose,” she said.

“All of this gives us very valuable insight into burial habits in the Stone Age, indicating how people prepared the child for the journey after death.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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