Figure 3: Artist’s reconstruction of the burial of an adult Homo naledi found in Feature 1 from the Dinaledi Chamber. Images from Berger et al., 2023. (Image: Berger et al)
A Northumbria University forensic scientist was part of a team which has unearthed the earliest example of burials by human ancestors.
Dr Patrick Randolph-Quinney is Associate Professor of Forensic Science at Northumbria and specialises in taphonomy and thanatology - the science of death and processes that affect a body from decomposition, through to skeletonisation, then recovery. In a project funded by the National Geographic Society, Dr Randolph-Quinney was one of a team of experts who unearthed new evidence in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa suggesting an extinct human cousin named Homo naledi buried their dead.
This symbolic behaviour had previously only associated with modern humans and Neanderthals. Bodies of Homo naledi adults and several children, thought to be younger than 13 were deposited in foetal positions within pits, which suggests intentional burial of the dead.
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