Washington: Archaeologists have discovered the remains of two Ice Age infants buried more than 11,000 years ago at a site in Alaska, which represent the youngest human remains ever found in North America.
The site and its artifacts provide new insights into funeral practices and other rarely preserved aspects of life among people who inhabited the area thousands of years ago, according to Ben Potter, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the paper's lead author.
Potter led the archaeological team that made the discovery in 2013 at an excavation of the Upward Sun River site, near the Tanana River in central Alaska.
Potter and his colleagues note that the human remains and associated burial offerings, as well as inferences about the time of year the children died and were buried, could lead to new thinking about how early societies were structured, the stresses they faced as they tried to survive, how they treated the youngest members of their society, and how they viewed death and the importance of rituals associated with it.
Potter made the new find on the site of a 2010 excavation, where the cremated remains of another 3-year-old child were found. The bones of the two infants were found in a pit directly below a residential hearth where the 2010 remains were found.
"Taken collectively, these burials and cremation reflect complex behaviors related to death among the early inhabitants of North America," Potter said.
Potter and his colleagues unearthed the remains of the two children in a burial pit under a residential structure about 15 inches below the level of the 2010 find.
The radiocarbon dates of the newly discovered remains are identical to those of the previous find - about 11,500 years ago - indicating a short period of time between the burial and cremation, perhaps a single season.
Also found within the burials were unprecedented grave offerings. They included shaped stone points and associated antler foreshafts decorated with abstract incised lines, representing some of the oldest examples of hafted compound weapons in North America.
"The presence of hafted points may reflect the importance of hunting implements in the burial ceremony and with the population as whole," researchers said.
The researchers also examined dental and skeletal remains to determine the probable age and sex of the infants at the time of the death: One survived birth by a few weeks, while the other died in utero.
The presence of three deaths within a single highly mobile foraging group may indicate resource stress, such as food shortages, among these early Americans.
The research was published in the journal PNAS.