Early Human Burial Practices Include Men Buried More Often Than Women
February 21, 2013

Early Human Burial Practices Include Men Buried More Often Than Women

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Julien Riel-Salvatore, PhD, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver, believes Neanderthals may not have been the knuckle-dragging brutes we think them to be, and he´s got the burial practices to prove it.

According to his research, the burial practices of the earliest people vary dramatically; from lavish to incredibly simple. This means the earliest people weren´t necessarily unable to appreciate the finer things in life; our species has just evolved over time.

This new study has even found funerals dating back before modern humans ever arrived in Eurasia, by 10,000 years.

“When they appear around 30,000 years ago some are lavish but many aren´t and over time the most elaborate ones almost disappear. So, the behavior of humans does not always go from simple to complex; it often waxes and wanes in terms of its complexity depending on the conditions people live under,” said Riel-Salvatore in a statement.

To arrive at this new conclusion, Riel-Salvatore examined 85 different burials that occurred during the Upper Paleolithic Period. Judging from these specific burials, Riel-Salvatore believes men were more likely to be buried than women, and infants were rarely buried at all. He found even fewer infants buried in later periods, which could serve as proof babies were living longer during this time.

While the University of Colorado professor was able to uncover evidence of rather ornate burials, he says these were anomalies and not indicative of common burial practices. This is especially true of those few elaborate burials discovered in the Czech Republic, Italy and Russia.

“The problem is that these burials are so rare -- there's just over three per thousand years for all of Eurasia -- that it's difficult to draw clear conclusions about what they meant to their societies,” explained Riel-Salvatore.

The majority of these early graves are described as “fairly plain,” as the deceased were buried with some of their belongings. It is in this way the graves of early humans resemble Neanderthal graves.

“Some researchers have used burial practices to separate modern humans from Neanderthals,” said Riel-Salvatore.

“But we are challenging the orthodoxy that all modern human burials were necessarily more sophisticated than those of Neanderthals.”

Riel-Salvatore believes the early humans and the Neanderthals are actually closer than one might think. Not only did the Neanderthals exhibit behavior similar to early humans, but also some of his previous research suggests the two even cohabited and bred with one another. This study provides an interesting look on the burial practices of the earliest human beings, but not without raising its fair share of questions. For instance, Riel-Salvatore is now left wondering why there was so much variation between burials.

“There seems to be little rhyme or reason to it,” Riel-Salvatore said. “The main point here is that we need to be careful of using exceptional examples of ornate burials to characterize Upper Paleolithic burial practices as a whole.”

One thing´s for certain: These burial practices differ greatly from those 800 years ago in Bulgaria. According to Bulgaria´s national history museum chief Bozhidar Dimitrov, if a townsperson was considered “bad,” either a drunkard or some other deadbeat, they were thought to be Vampires yet to take shape. These people were immediately killed and nailed to their coffins with an iron stake through their heart to prevent the corpse from coming back to life and terrorizing the town. Riel-Salvatore´s study is suspiciously short of these kinds of tales.