Stone Age Grave of a Mother and Child is the Oldest Baby Burial in the Netherlands
Researchers working at an archaeological site in the Netherlands have made a startling Stone Age discovery. They have unearthed the earliest known example of a baby’s grave in the Netherlands. Specifically, archaeologists have found a 6,000-year-old grave of an infant in the arms of a woman, likely its mother.
Dutch News reports the woman and child were uncovered at a site in Nieuwegein in the province of Utrecht; a location where hunter gatherers lived along the river during the Stone Age. It is one of the Swifterbant sites in the Netherlands.
According to IB Times, the presence of the baby’s remains was not noted until researchers took a closer look at the bent arm of the female skeleton. As project leader Helle Molthof told NOS “The posture of the woman's body did not conform to what we had found so far, that is, bodies whose limbs are placed parallel to the body. We then made the moving discovery that she was in fact cradling a little baby.”
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The grave of the woman and baby dates to the Stone Age. (Gemeente Nieuwegein)
This is a rare find because bones of a child so young do not normally withstand the years. However, peat and clay helped with preservation. When researchers examined the infant’s remains they found a small jaw with milk teeth. Analysis of the remains suggest the baby died before it was six months old.
Molthof said that the teeth had an impact on the researchers’ emotions, “It really makes an impression when you find little baby teeth buried in clay for 6,000 years and see how similar they are to all those milk teeth that are kept in matchboxes by parents everywhere.”
The woman holding the baby died when she was between the ages of 20 to 30 years old. The next step is to complete DNA testing to ascertain if she was its mother and whether the infant was a boy or girl. Scientists will also complete an isotope analysis to identify the woman’s homeland. No suggestion has been made as to the cause of death for the woman or baby.
Some of the remains found in the burial. (NOS)
Apart from the infant, four adult skeletons were unearthed at the site, but the woman with the child was the only one to have her arm bent – making it stand out against the straight arms which are normally seen in Swifterbant burials.
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According to Dutch News, the Nieuwegein archaeological site has already given researchers a wealth of information through 136,000 artifacts. However, archaeologists hope they can combine the information from the site with what they’ve discovered about the recently unearthed graves to learn more about burial practices in the Stone Age hunter-gatherer community in the area. Molthof explained that this is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle on that society, “We know how they lived, what sort of food they ate, what their houses were like but we don't know very much yet about how they buried their dead and what happened to the children.”
The Swifterbant culture was focused along waterways such as rivers and creeks – optimal locations due to the variety of plants and readily available fishing and hunting options. Swifterbant pottery suggests it is an ancestral culture pertaining to the Funnelbeaker culture. The earliest sites were probably seasonally occupied; however, it has been suggested that this culture was present up until agriculture began to take hold in the area. One interesting feature of this culture was the practice of bovine sacrifices which have been found in bogs.
Example of some Stone Age Funnelbeaker culture artifacts at Archaeological Museum of the state of Brandenburg. (Wolfgang Sauber/CC BY SA 4.0)
Top Image: Left: The baby was found tucked under the arm of a woman in a grave in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands. Right: An artist's impression of the grave. Source: Gemeente Nieuwegein