A burial ground containing the remains of dozens of children and infants has been uncovered in Egypt by a Polish team led by Prof. J Kabacińskiego of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Poznan.
Deep in the desert region of Gebel Ramlah, located near the southern border of Egypt, about 140 km west of Abu Simbel, the archaeologists examined a unique necropolis dated to around 6500 years.
To date, there are no known cemeteries in the Western Desert intended almost exclusively for children, infants and foetuses – some of these fragile and poignant remains were found during recent excavations.
“In several cases, newborns were buried along with an adult, probably representing the death during childbirth of the mother. In one case we were able to accurately determine the age of the mother – the woman was only 14 years old “- explained Kabacińskiego.
Graves in the cemetery were relatively small and shallow and could not have been visible on the surface. However, in the case of the child mother burial, archaeologists speculate that there was a clearly visible ground structure, as evidenced by the remains of kerb stones, delineating the extent of the burial chamber.
No formalised layout
In contrast to other known cemeteries in the area of Gebel Ramlah, on this site the researchers were not able to see any formalised structure to the layout of the site. The state of preservation of skeletal material was poor and most survived only as skull or fragments of the long bones.
All the graves found contained only a few modest grave goods. Every burial pit contained lumps of reddish ochre which the archaeologists consider to being an important and integral part of their belief system, hence the inclusion in every grave. In a few graves the archaeologists discovered bracelets made of ivory or shells imported from the Red Sea.
The researchers took numerous samples of genetic material from which it is hoped after the analysis, it will be possible to determine whether and what familial links united the interred individuals.
Adult burial ground
Scientists will also be given an opportunity to understand a broader picture of the Neolithic communities in the Western Desert. Next to this cemetery is another burial ground for adults, presumably from the same period. It will be the subject of research in the coming years.
Work in this area is part of an international mission, Combined Prehistoric Expedition Foundation (CPEF), which was initiated during the construction of the Aswan Dam. The CPEF was created in 1962 to support long-term, multidisciplinary research at prehistoric archaeological localities along the Nile Valley and adjacent deserts. Research goals still include studying and recording the changes in environment through time, the impact of these changes on human society, and changes in human behaviour over time.
Placing these finds into context, the expedition also boasts numerous successes including the discovery of the remarkable Neolithic astronomical observatory.
These studies have also provided arguments in favour of a close relationship between the population of the Nabata Playa in the Western Desert and the development of Pharaonic civilization along the Nile.
The current archaeological project is run by grant from the National Science Centre.
Simon Zdziebłowski (PAP)
Source: PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland www.naukawpolsce.pap.pl