Researchers Uncover the Earliest Known Burial of a Female Infant

Sharon Renee History /
fossils found Arma Veirana
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images

Another day, another discovery. Researchers in Italy have recently unearthed the remains of one of Humankind's earliest ancestors. Said to date back thousands upon thousands of years, here's what archaeologists have explained about their latest finding - and how it can offer greater insight into understanding our history on this planet...

On Tuesday, December 14, researchers from the University of Colorado announced a major breakthrough regarding their excavation in Italy's Ligurian pre-Alps. Not only had they unearthed the remains of an ancient infant within a surrounding cave, but they were like nothing the scientific community had ever seen before.

ancient burial found neve
DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images

Dubbed "Neve," the ancient remains were said to belong to the oldest female infant burial known to man. Estimated to have been roughly 40-50 days old upon her death, the Homo sapien was well preserved, buried among seashell beads, pendants and an eagle-owl talon. From her time of death - roughly 10,000 years ago - to the burial it called for, Neve was instantly deemed a marvel by researchers. "The number of burials at this time, between about 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, is very, very rare," lead author of the study, Jamie Hodgkins, noted.

But that same rarity might help researchers fill in other missing blanks. "This is about increasing our knowledge of women, but also acknowledging that we as archaeologists can’t understand the past through a singular lens," added Hodgkins. "We need as diverse a perspective as possible because humans are complex." That being said, this isn't the first time researchers stumbled across ancient remains in the European site. The cave in Northwestern Italy, Arma Veirana, has been home to several remarkable discoveries over the years. Said to have been occupied by both Neanderthals - up to 44,000 years ago - and early modern humans - up to 30,000 years ago - the landmark is undeniably rich in history.

"Did modern humans and archaic hominins occupy the same territories? ... To what extent did they hybridize?" Hodgkins wondered. Hopefully, his team's latest finding will help answer those very questions. Take a look at the full study, detailed in the journal Nature. And, of course, be sure to stay tuned for further updates.