Research press release



Human behaviour: The earliest deliberate burial by modern humans in Africa

ケニアの洞窟で発見された幼児の骨が約7万8300年前のものと推定され、これが意図的埋葬であり、アフリカの現生人類が埋葬目的で遺体を収容していたことを示す最古の証拠であることが明らかになった。今週、Nature に掲載されるこの発見は、アフリカの現生人類集団が死者をどのように処遇したのかを解明する新たな手掛かりとなる。

現生人類の行動の進化に関する研究は、アフリカの中期石器時代(約28万0000~2万5000年前)に焦点に合わせたものが多いが、行動進化の重要な要素である正式な埋葬が、その時代のアフリカで行われたことを示す証拠は非常に少ない。今回María Martinón-Torresたちは、ケニアの海岸近くにあるパンガヤサイディ(Panga ya Saidi)と呼ばれる洞窟遺跡の中石器時代の地層から採集された2.5~3歳の幼児の部分的な骨格について記述しており、この骨格には、ホモ・サピエンスと同じ歯の特徴が認められた。



The deliberate burial of a young child, dated to around 78,000 years ago, in a cave in Kenya is the earliest known evidence of funerary internment by modern humans in Africa. The discovery, reported in Nature this week, offers new insight into how these populations treated their dead.

Investigations of the evolution of modern human behaviour often focus on the Middle Stone Age of Africa (spanning from about 280,000 to 25,000 years ago), but evidence is scarce for formal burials—an important component of this evolution—in Africa at this time. María Martinón-Torres and colleagues describe a partial skeleton of a 2.5–3-year-old child, with dental features that are consistent with an assignment to Homo sapiens, recovered from Middle Stone Age layers at Panga ya Saidi, a cave site near the coast of Kenya.

They estimate that the child, who they named ‘Mtoto’ (‘child’ in Swahili), was buried around 78,300 years ago; the arrangement of surviving bone fragments indicate that the body was placed on its side with legs drawn up to its chest. The pit in which Mtoto lay appears to have been deliberately excavated, and the body was covered by sediment scooped up from the cave floor. These features—along with evidence that the body was rapidly covered and decomposed in situ—indicate that the burial was intentional.

This evidence—along with previous reports of putative Middle Stone Age burials—suggests that the mortuary behaviours of modern humans in Africa differed from those of Neanderthals and early modern humans in Eurasia, who commonly buried their dead in residential sites from at least around 120,000 years ago. In addition to providing new insights into the evolution of humans in Africa, the findings reported by Martinón-Torres and colleagues therefore highlight regional diversity in the evolution of our species.

After the embargo ends, the full paper will be available at:

doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03457-8

「Nature 関連誌注目のハイライト」は、ネイチャー広報部門が報道関係者向けに作成したリリースを翻訳したものです。より正確かつ詳細な情報が必要な場合には、必ず原著論文をご覧ください。

メールマガジンリストの「Nature 関連誌今週のハイライト」にチェックをいれていただきますと、毎週最新のNature 関連誌のハイライトを皆様にお届けいたします。