An international team of archaeologists has at least doubled the tradition of cremating the remains of dead people by studying an ancient monument discovered in Jordan.
The study was reported by Science News. It was conducted by a team of archaeologists led by Lisa Maher of the University of California at Berkeley and Daniel MacDonald of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
The new work proves that the tradition of cremating the remains of deceased tribesmen appeared in humans much earlier than it was believed. Until now, the oldest traces of such rituals were about 10 thousand years old. Therefore, scientists believed that ritual ceremonies appeared no earlier than 10 thousand years ago.
However, in a new study, archaeologists have studied the remains of a hut that burned down about 19.2 thousand years ago. It was found in 2016 in Jordan, in a prehistoric site called Kharan IV.
This object aroused increased interest because a partially charred skeleton of a woman was found on the floor. Her body was laid on its side and her legs were bent at the knees.
Analysis of the remains and charred remains of the structure showed that the woman’s body was placed in a hut and lined with brushwood, which was immediately set on fire. A survey of the surrounding area revealed no traces of fire. This means that an accidental fire could not be the cause of the woman’s death – someone in ancient times planned to burn only the hut.
Judging by the analysis of the coal, it burned out rather quickly, as its walls collapsed inward and covered the woman’s body. According to the authors of the study, all the traces studied indicate that this was a very unusual burial for its time. The woman was probably cremated.
It turns out that the change in views of the living and the dead among prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies occurred much earlier than previously thought. Moreover, the very fact that a woman was cremated in a hut indicates the existence of a funeral ritual unknown to science. Perhaps this was done in order to bring the worlds of the dead and the living closer together.
The find dates back to a period when groups of hunter-gatherers often set up temporary camps at hunting camps and trade routes. Archaeologists explain their desire to associate the dead with structures built by people by the belief that in this way the dead will remain next to the living.
The fact that this was a traditional social custom is also indicated by subsequent finds. So, archaeologists at the same prehistoric site found traces of at least three more burned huts, inside which were the remains of people. The age of one of them, for example, is 19.4 thousand years. That is, the use of temporary homes for cremation has been practiced for centuries.
According to Lisa Maher, the camp itself was allegedly used by humans for 800-1000 years. The last traces were left here by man about 18.6 thousand years ago. It is possible that by that time this place, due to the relatively large number of burnt huts, had become sacred.
However, the beliefs and importance that the residents of Kharan IV attached to the process of burning houses with bodies placed inside, according to Maher, still remain a mystery. In her opinion, the use of fire in this case could mean a certain type of transformation, rebirth, purification or change of the cycle of life and death.