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October 07, 2005 Science Magazine
Buried With Care

Austrian researchers have uncovered two baby human skeletons buried together at least 27,000 years ago. With red ochre and grave gifts, the site is "clearly … a deliberate burial connected with a ritual," says lead scientist Christine Neugebauer- Maresch, a paleontologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
   In 1999, the academy set out to investigate Paleolithic settlements near the Austrian town of Krems. Extensive excavations hinted at rich settlements in an area where the Krems River flows into the Danube. Last month, the scientists found a thick cultural layer, 5 meters below the surface, harboring artifacts and animal remains including a shoulder blade of a mammoth.

CREDIT: PREHISTORISCHE KOMM.

   The shoulder blade, supported by a large piece of mammoth ivory, protected a 5-centimeter-deep hollow where the two infants' bodies had been placed side by side covered by red ochre. More than 30 ivory beads were also with the bodies. Both babies' thighbones measured 71 mm, indicating that they were newborns. DNA and tooth-bud analyses may ascertain if they were also twins, says Neugebauer-Maresch.
   The remains still need to be carbon-dated, but nearby remains have been dated to 40,000 to 27,000 years old, near the dawn of "modern" human behavior when our ancestors acquired hunting skills, rites, and customs. "This impressive result shows that, in this case, babies were already considered as full members of the glacial group of hunters and gatherers some 27,000 years ago," says Neugebauer-Maresch.
   "This is an outstanding discovery that will contribute very much to our understanding of the evolution of human growth in a time when modern humans replaced Neandertals in Europe," says Antonio Rosas González of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.

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