The discovery of an infant burial site in Alaskan sand dunes provides a glimpse of how the first settlers of North America dealt with the tragedy of death of an off spring. Led by University of Alaska anthropological archaeologist Ben Potter, an international group of researchers have uncovered the mortal remains of two infants in 2013 during the excavation of the Paleolithic Upward Sun River archaeological site near the Tanana River in central Alaska.
The two infant skeletons were found positioned with their backs alongside tools and decoratively carved antlers that had been coated with ochre. The situation suggests that the infants were from hunter-gatherer families and their demise was mourned and ritualized much in the way as modern human do. The way in which the infants were buried shows that they were twins and the one which died earlier were exhumed and then buried alongside the other.
The burial pit was discovered by Dr. Potter and his team, about 15 inches below the hearth which was excavated and contained the remains of a 3-year-old child, which had been found in 2010 by the same research team. All the three specimens were dated by the excavation team to approximately 11,500 years ago and are believed to be of the earliest known remains of the North American Sub Arctic.
What the researchers found most intriguing was the difference in mortuary treatment of infants and children in the burial and cremations. The disparity in the treatment of the remains could give some clues about the way paleoindians vision of child development in terms of christening, ensoulment, or other ideological factors.
The researchers believe that cremations and the burials were probably done by the same hunter-gatherer group. This conclusion was reached on the basis of radio-carbon dating of flora and fauna found during excavation. The existence of immature squirrels and salmon in both sites hints that the infants were buried in between mid-July and early August.