majoonsuo, in the municipality of Outokumpu, in eastern Finland, was the site of a surprising discovery; the burial of a stone age boyburied with feathers and fur.
On a gravel path in a forest, the archaeological team found the first samples of fur and feathers in a Finnish Mesolithic burial. This is unknown information about burial rites used thousands of years ago in the region.
Unique find from the Stone Age
Understanding ancient civilizations is quite a challenge. Archeology has only a few pieces of the puzzle surviving to this day, but thousands more are missing. And among them, organic matter is included. Especially when talking about a country like Finland, where the high acidity of its soil degrades this material more quickly.
However, a new survey by the Tuija Kirkinen University of Helsinkifound that detectable remains of the delicate organic objects graves can remain in the ground for thousands of years.
The Finnish Heritage Agency she was the first to examine the burial in 2018 as it was believed to be in danger of destruction. The site is under a gravel path in a forest, with the top of the tomb partially exposed.
The boy’s ocher red burial site in Majoonsuo. 1 credit
The deposit was found due to the intense red color ocher This iron-rich clay soil was also used in the rock art from everyone.
During the excavation, only a few teeth were found, determining that it was a child between 3 and 10 years old. They also found quartz cross arrowheads and two other possible objects of the same material. According to the shape of the arrowheads and the dating at the level of the coast, it can be estimated that the burial comes from the Mesolithic period of the Stone Age.
Two permanent mandibular incisors of the boy found at Majoonsuo. Credit: Ilari Järvinen / Finnish Heritage Agency, Archaeological Collections and Kristiina Mannermaa.
Similarly, they detected 24 microscopic fragments of bird feathers, the majority coming from the down of a waterfowl. These are the Finland’s oldest feather fragments. Although their origin cannot be established with certainty, they can come from clothing, such as a parka or anorak. It is also possible that the child was in a down bed.
Additionally, a single falcon’s feather barb was recovered, which was probably from the skewering of quartz arrowheads. It is also possible that the falcon feathers were used to decorate the tomb or the clothes of the deceased child.
Besides feathers, it has also been found 24 fragments of mammalian hair, between 0.5 and 9.5 millimeters in length. Most of them were very degraded, making their identification impossible.
The best finds were the 3 canine hairs, possibly a predator, that were at the bottom of the grave. Although they can also belong to shoes, clothes or a pet buried next to the child.
Electron microscope image of possible canine hairs. Credit: Tuija Kirkinen.
The main objective was to investigate how heavily degraded plant and animal remains could be tracked using a soil analysis. For this investigation, 65 bags containing soil samples were collected and university experts separated the organic matter from the samples using water.
Exposed fibers and hairs were scanned and identified with using a transmitted light and electron microscope. A unique fiber separation technique was also used which was developed through research, which will hopefully provide a model for future studies.
Until 3 different laboratories they examined the remains found, looking for microparticles and fatty acids. The red earth has been sifted and gently separated from the original earth.
Plant fibers also had bast fiber, from a willow or nettle. They were probably part of a larger net, perhaps used for fishing or as a cord to tie up clothes. It is curious that this is the second discovery of bast fiber in Finland, which comes from the Stone Age.
“All of this gives us valuable insight into Stone Age burial habits, indicating how people prepared the child for the afterlife journey,” the researchers said.
This discovery teaches us how little we know about ancient humanity in some parts of the world and that we still have a long way to go to uncover the secrets of antiquity.
The research was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
References: Science Alert/Live Science.