Misidentified Ancient Ritual Burial Sites Turned Out to Be Hominin Buffets

A macabre mistake.

University of the Witwatersrand

When archaeologists discovered our ancient ancestors’ remains in caves, they thought they’d found evidence of spooky death rituals. But as Inverse reported in April, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that two archaeological sites were probably not burial sites, as archaeologists had suspected, but were, in fact, more likely ancient hominin buffets.

Rather than being the place where our ancient hominin ancestors solemnly placed their dead, the caves of Spain’s Sima de los Huesos and South Africa’s Dinaledi Chamber may have been sites where large predators dragged dead hominins to feast on their flesh and bones. In addition to being extremely WTF, this study sheds some light on the minds and habits of ancient humans. Whereas death and burial rituals like funerals, wakes, and memorial services may seem natural to us, they weren’t always the norm for our ancestors.

This is #23 on Inverse‘s list of the 25 Most WTF stories of 2018.

“A ‘central aspect’ of the human condition is our capacity to anticipate our own death, and thus, ponder the significance of mortality across time and space,” the researchers wrote. “If these sites were actually scenes of ancient mortuary behavior then there would be an implication that ‘humans had developed a sense of mortal transience by approximately 600,000 to 300,000 years ago.’”

Unfortunately, the evidence now suggests that that was not the case.

In the video below, archaeologists explore Sima de los Huesos, which means “pit of bones,” a site considered one of the richest hominin fossil sites in the world.

This site contains the remains of early hominins Homo heidelbergensis and the Neanderthals. While it’s inspiring to think that these ancient peoples cared enough to entomb their dead friends and family in caves, the PNAS study revealed an unusual dearth of head bones, neck bones, and the marrow-filled ends of long bones at both Sima de los Huesos and the Dinaledi Chamber. This evidence simply did not match up with the burial ritual hypothesis.

At the risk of getting extremely graphic, meat lovers know where the tasty marrow is in bones. And so too, it seems, did whatever large predators feasted on these ancient hominins.

As 2018 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down the 25 stories that made us go WTF. Some are gross, some are amazing, and some are just, well, WTF. In our ranking from least WTF to most WTF, this has been #23. Read the original article here.

Watch the full 25 WTF countdown in the video below.