Burial sites can reveal a lot about a person's identity and history. For example, archaeologists excavated the site of Arma Veirana in Liguria and examined the opening of a ditch found near the east wall of the cave. During this opening, a group of researchers from the University of Montreal discovered the burial of a female infant. DNA and dental analysis indicate that he was most likely 50 days old when he was buried in the Early Mesolithic (around 10,000 BC), just after the last ice age. (Gravel-Miguel et al. 2022)
Chief of Staff Gravel-Miguel remarked: "I dug into the adjoining plaza and I remember looking and thinking, 'That's a weird bone'. It quickly became clear that we weren't looking not just a human skull, but that it was a very young human. It was an emotional day." (Arizona State University, 2021)
These archaeologists discovered not only the bones of the infant, but also historical human jewelry. Typically, these ornaments are seen as a means of expressing identity as well as hierarchical status and gender, but they can be used to protect against evil spirits. The baby girl was buried with perforated shells and pendants, allowing researchers to find out how early humans used these beads. Through extensive analysis, they concluded that the beads were in fact part of the baby's wrap. (Gravel-Miguel et al. 2022)
An original depiction of Neve's funeral, showing the baby's sling with the punched beads attached.
Although there is currently no support for the sling itself, the surrounding shells at the burial site are perforated in such a way that someone strung the shells together and then sewed them onto some sort of textile or animal skin. Another finding from the analyzes was that the shells were very worn and therefore probably carried by different members of the neighborhood before being attached to the sling (Heinrich, 2022). The function of the sling was likely to keep the infant close to its father and mother while allowing them to move (Gravel-Miguel et al. 2022).
The anatomical elements of the hulls sewn on the sling. The blue outline on the dorsal side describes the general area of most punctures.
Additionally, the analysis team suggested that the infant's group may have decorated his noose mostly with beads to protect him from harm. However, as his death indicated that these beads had failed in their defensive function, the group felt it was perfect to bury the sling rather than reuse it. (Henry, 2022)
Since the 2017 excavations, archaeologists have dubbed the buried child "Neve", and dental analysis of her teeth suggests she is the "oldest female infant buried in Europe" (Cassella, 2022). Recent and future research emphasizes the technique of prehistoric childcare and the potential use (and reuse) of beads to protect community members and strengthen social bonds within tribes (Heinrich, 2022 ).
Reference links: Gravel-Miguel C, Cristiani E, Hodgkins J et al. Ornaments from the early Mesolithic infant burial of Arma Veirana. Theory of the J Archéol method (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-022-09573-7
Heinrich, J. (2022, September 26). Raising children, 10,000 years in the past. udemnews. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://nouvelles.umontreal.ca/en/article/2022/09/26/bring-up-baby-10-000-years-ago/
Cassella, C. (2022, September 29). The ancient burial of a young girl shows how we carried our babies 10,000 years ago. scientific alert. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.sciencealert.com/ancient-burial-of-a-young-girl-shows-how-we-carried-our-babies-10000-years-ago
University of Arizona. (2021, December 14). The oldest decorated female child burial in Europe, crucial to understanding the evolution of humanity. Phys.org. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2021-12-earliest-adorned-female-infant-burial.html
Additional content: Hodgkins, J., Orr, CM, Gravel-Miguel, C. et al. A baby burial from Arma Veirana in northwestern Italy provides insight into burial practices and female personality in early Mesolithic Europe. Sci Rep Eleven, 23735 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-02804-z
Martinón-Torres M, d'Errico F, Santos E et al. First known human burial in Africa. Nature 593, 95-100 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03457-8