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Volume 593 Issue 7857, 6 May 2021

Interred in Africa

The cover image shows the reconstruction of the partial skeleton of a young child dating to around 78,000 years ago. The remains were uncovered at a cave site called Panga ya Saidi in coastal Kenya and studied by María Martinón-Torres and her colleagues, who describe the finding in this week’s issue. The discovery represents the oldest known deliberate burial of a modern human in Africa. Although it is known that Neanderthals deliberately buried their dead, there has been little evidence for the practice in early humans. The child, named ‘Mtoto’ (‘child’ in Swahili) by the team, was about 3 years old and was placed on their side with their legs drawn up to their chest. Mtoto was interred in a pit that seems to have been deliberately excavated, and was covered by sediment scooped up from the cave floor. The discovery of Mtoto sheds fresh light on how populations of the Middle Stone Age dealt with their dead.

Cover image: Jorge González García/Elena Santos.

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