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Child burial from 80,000 years ago shows the existence of abstract ideas

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The lovingly prepared site on the Kenyan coast held the remains of a 2–3 year-old child:

A child’s grave, found recently in Kenya, pushes clear evidence of abstract thinking back to 80,000 years ago, the Middle Stone Age. The child, nicknamed “Mtoto” (child in Swahili) by the archaeologists, was 2½ – 3 years old; whether a boy or a girl is as yet unclear…

“In a tour de force of discovery, recovery, and analysis, an interdisciplinary research team has uncovered the earliest known human burial in Africa. The grave, found less than 10 miles inland from southeast Kenya’s lush ocean beaches, contained the remains of a two- to three-year-old child buried with extraordinary care by a community of early Homo sapiens some 78,000 years ago. While some human burials in the Middle East and Europe are older, the find in Africa provides one of the earliest unequivocal examples anywhere of a body interred in a pit prepared for that purpose and covered with earth.” JAMIE SHREVE, “CHILD’S GRAVE IS THE OLDEST HUMAN BURIAL FOUND IN AFRICA” AT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (MAY 6, 2021) …

Death, as applied to ourselves, is an abstraction as well as a reality. When we say that the dead do not come back to life or that everyone dies or wonder what happens to our minds after death, we are dealing in abstractions. The rituals around death that help us grieve embody these abstractions. Items buried with the deceased (grave goods) may be merely fond remembrances but they may also be things that mourners think the deceased might need in another life — stone tools, for example. Jewelry may just be jewelry but it may also be good luck charms or amulets, to ward off evil. Perhaps the snail shell with the excisions gave an identity to “Mtoto” — a message to another world, perhaps, about who the child was.

News, “Death: Child grave from 80,000 years ago shows abstract thinking” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: As more burials are found, we will start to get more answers. For example, if a number of such graves feature shells or similar objects with excisions, we can infer a symbolic intention.

You may also wish to read:

Do people suddenly gain clarity about life just before dying? A small number of cognitively challenged or dementia patients become lucid — for the first time in years — just before dying

and

Do animals truly grieve when other animals die? Yes, but “death” is, in some ways, an abstraction so there are only some things they can understand about it

3 Replies to “Child burial from 80,000 years ago shows the existence of abstract ideas

  1. 1
    BobRyan says:

    There is great value in learning from the ancient, and not so ancient, burial sites. It gives us an idea of who they were, since each remain discovered tells a story. The problem comes down to saying how long the remains have been there. We have no accurate way of knowing even an approximation of how old something is. Until we do, it should be stated just how rough the approximation is.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    I really like what Pam Reynolds said after her fairly famous Near Death Experience, “I think death is an illusion. I think death is a really nasty bad lie. I don’t see any truth in the word death at all.”

    “I think death is an illusion. I think death is a really nasty bad lie. I don’t see any truth in the word death at all.”
    This is the conclusion of Pam Reynolds, a singer-songwriter. She spits out her defiance softly while recalling her vivid brush with death during an interview for the BBC documentary The Day I Died. Her near-death experience is near-boilerplate: the feelings of euphoria, the separation from the body, the rush through a dark tunnel toward a bright white light, the life review, the encounters with dead loved ones.
    Yet Reynolds’ experience is different. In 1991, doctors found a gargantuan aneurysm lodged at the base of her brain. In a last-ditch effort, she submitted to doctors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix and a radical surgical procedure where her heart was stopped and her brain was shut down.
    https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/high-on-death-6382995

    Pamela Reynolds – NDE – The day I died – video
    https://vimeo.com/155579637

    Verse:

    Luke 20: 38
    He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    “We are also seeing cognitive abilities, abstract thinking,”

    Why are we still starting with the assumption that abstract thinking is a modern development? Other mammals mourn their dead. We do it with more complex symbols.

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