Rare ritual burial in El Nido

Ancient human remains in Philippines reveal rare ritual burial

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A team of scientists have discovered the 9,000-year-old remains of a woman buried in a cave in El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines, which reveal evidence of an elaborate and bizarre ritual burial.

The bones of this woman were defleshed and crushed. They were burned and put in a small box before she was put in her final resting place. According to the study authors whose findings were published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, the burial "demonstrate(s) a complex ritualistic treatment" that "has not (yet) been recorded in Southeast Asia."

The discovery is rare and significant because it is the first evidence of a cremation burial in this period in Southeast Asia and, so far, appears to be the earliest use of the practice in the region. The only other discovery of a cremation burial in the Philippines was found in Laguna and dated to the 13 th or 14 th century.

However, most unnerving was the discovery of cut marks in the joints of the woman, which indicate that the people who conducted the ritual knew how to disarticulate the bones of a human body, and scrape marks on her bones and skull, indicating defleshing, points suspiciously to the act of cannibalism.

Ancient civilizations were rumoured to have practiced cannibalism in their religious rituals. The Aztecs of Mexico, for instance, allegedly sacrificed their human captives to their gods and ate their corpses.

The Wari' tribe of Brazil, on the other hand, ate their dead relatives. Part of their ritual is eating a small shred of their deceased relative's corpse that was previously barbecued. The close kin of the deceased will then decide whether to burn or bury the bones.

However, many archaeologists are cautious about jumping to such conclusions.

“Inferring cannibalism is such a contentious issue in archaeological discourse. While other researchers might readily infer cannibalism from the modifications in C.758, we prefer to tread with caution and infer the minimum, which is a mortuary ritual,” said Myra Lara, proponent of the study.

It is hoped that further analysis will reveal more about the woman’s mysterious fate.

By April Holloway

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