Scientists find canine fur in Stone Age child’s grave in Finland

A new study analyzes the fur, feathers and plant matter found in the 8,000-year-old grave of a young child.

Tom BjorklundArtist’s rendering of what the child buried at Majoonsuo might have looked like.

Recently, a team of archaeologists working in eastern Finland made a fascinating discovery in an 8,000-year-old Stone Age child’s grave. When they sifted through the floor, they found that various canine hairs were present along the body.

As Live Science reports that although many hairs had deteriorated badly, their presence in the grave could imply that a dog or wolf was interred at the child’s feet.

Dogs buried with the deceased have been found, for example, at Skateholm, a famous burial site in southern Sweden dating back around 7,000 years,” said Kristiina Mannermaa, researcher and associate professor in the Department of Cultures at the University. University of Helsinki. “The discovery at Majoonsuo is sensational, even though only hair remains from the animal or animals – not even teeth.”

The Stone Age tomb was first discovered at Majoonsuo in 1991 when researchers noticed a gravel road had been stained with red ochre, an iron-rich clay commonly associated with burial sites. In 2018, a team from the Finnish Heritage Agency examined the site again and determined that it was “at risk of destruction” due to traffic and erosion. Fearing its loss, researchers began excavating the site the same year.

Finland Archaeological Site

Kristiina Mannermaa/University of HelsinkiThe large stain caused by the red ocher led the team of archaeologists to begin investigating the site.

Finnish soil is very acidic, which means that organic matter is rarely well preserved. Archaeologists were therefore not surprised when they discovered that there were few remains in the tomb. However, they did find the teeth of a Stone Age child who, based on dental analysis, died between the ages of 3 and 10.

Additionally, microscopic analysis of the floor itself revealed that traces of animal hair were still present. The researchers published the results of their study of the contents of the tomb in the journal PLOS A.

Along with teeth and canine fur, the researchers found fragments of bird feathers and plant fibers, which when combined offer insight into how Stone Age humans treated their departed.

According to CNN, there were about 24 tiny feather fragments found at the site, seven of which belonged to waterfowl. These also represent the oldest feather fragments ever found in Finland.

The collection of feathers may mean that the child has been laid down to rest on a small bed of down or perhaps wrapped in a feather parka.

A falcon feather was also part of the assortment. It may have been part of an arrow or worn as a decoration by the child.

And of course there was canine fur. “We don’t even know if it’s a dog or a wolf,” Mannermaa explained.

Free of canine hair

Tuija Kirkinen/University of HelsinkiOne of the fragments of canine hair recovered from the grave, examined under a microscope.

The study’s lead author, Tuija Kirkinen, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Crops at the University of Helsinki, and her team collected 60 bags of soil samples for analysis. They separated organic matter from the soil with water, after which three labs analyzed the samples for microparticles and fatty acids.

Kirkinen is a member of the Animals Make Identities project, led by Mannermaa, which seeks to identify “social connections between humans and animals in hunter-gatherer burial sites” in northeastern Europe. The hope is that by identifying these connections, researchers can learn more about the lives of ancient humans living 9,000 years ago.

“The work is really slow and it really made my heart skip a beat when I found tiny fragments of past grave goods and clothing, especially in Finland where all unburned bone tends to decay, Kirkinen said. “All of this gives us very valuable insight into Stone Age burial habits, indicating how people prepared the child for the journey after death.”

After reading this insight into life in the Stone Age, learn about the Stone Age settlement discovered at the bottom of a Finnish lake. Or read about the strange Stone Age burial site discovered in Sweden that has researchers baffled.

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