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Remarkable cemetery discovery: the 5,000-year-old ‘monumental’ cemetery stuns archaeologists

The Lothagam North Pillar Site (Image courtesy of Katherine Grillo)

Archaeologists have discovered a huge ancient burial site in Kenya that sheds new light on the area of the early culture.

Researchers from Stony Brook University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History discovered the cemetery, described as one of the earliest and largest historic cemetery in East Africa. The find on the Lothagam North Pillar Site near Lake Turkana has surprised experts, offering new details of the old shepherds who used the cemetery.

“This group is believed to have had an egalitarian society, without a layered social hierarchy,” the researchers wrote in a statement. “So also the construction of such a large public project in conflict with long stories about the early complex societies, suggesting that a stratified social structure necessary for the construction of large public buildings or monuments.”

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Stone pendants and earrings found in the common cemetery (Image courtesy of Carla Klehm)

The shepherds built on a platform about 98 metres in diameter and excavated a large area in the centre where they buried their dead. At least 580 people “just buried” on the site is the central platform. “Men, women, and children of different ages, from babies to the elderly, were all buried in the same area, without any special cemeteries are distinguishable with a special treatment,” the researchers said. “Basically, all people were buried with personal ornaments and the distribution of the ornaments was approximately equal in the entire cemetery. These factors indicate a relatively egalitarian society without strong social stratification.”

Experts note that the ancient monuments have traditionally been regarded as indicators of complex societies with clearly defined social classes. “This discovery challenges previous ideas about monumentality,” said Elizabeth Sawchuk of the Stony Brook University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of the Human History, in a statement.

Other important archaeological sites have been discovered recently in Africa. Earlier this year, for example, experts in South Africa is located on the grounds of a centuries-old ‘lost city’ with the help of advanced laser technology.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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