Rare Find: Infant Girl Buried 10K Years Ago

Burial suggests females were highly regarded at the time
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2021 12:12 PM CST
Oldest Known Grave of Baby Girl Found in Europe
Stock image.   (Getty/Trifonov_Evgeniy)

(Newser) – The earliest known burial of a female infant in Europe has convinced some archaeologists that humans living 10,000 years ago considered females as members of society at birth—a find that might be surprising considering many women didn’t gain personhood under law until the 20th century. The child, who died at less than two months old, was wrapped in a shroud decorated with more than 60 beads and four pendants made from shell in a grave inside a cave in what is now northwestern Italy. An eagle-owl talon found nearby may also have been meant as a gift, per Smithsonian. It appears the items were "worn for a long time by the adults" and might even have been passed down to the child, archaeologist Fabio Negrino, co-author of a study published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, tells NBC News.

"It suggests to us that personhood, or recognition of individuals within a society, was passed to very young females," another study co-author, UC Denver paleoanthropologist Caley Orr, tells National Geographic. That's also indicated with the graves of two female infants who lived 11,500 years ago in what is now Alaska, per Smithsonian. The earliest human and Neanderthal graves found in Africa also indicate children had personhood, though any differences between male and female children were not clear. The study's lead author, archaeologist Jamie Hodgkins, notes it's "very, very rare" to find human burials from the early Mesolithic, which began about 15,000 years ago in Europe. And it's even rarer to find bones of infants from this period.

In other words, the partial skeleton of this child, dubbed Neve after a river near the the Arma Veirana cave in Liguria, "is in a gap where we don't have much of anything at all," says Hodgkins. Luckily, it was well enough preserved to extract DNA, revealing the infant's sex. "Without DNA analysis, this highly decorated infant burial could possibly have been assumed male," Hodgkins says in a release, per Smithsonian. Tests on the infant's teeth showed she lived for 40 to 50 days. They also showed the teeth temporarily stopped growing in the womb due to stress at two periods: 47 days and 28 days before she was born, per NBC. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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