A team of archaeologists discovered ancient "nests" of remains of prehistoric hunter-gatherers who died about 30,000 years ago.
The remains was discovered in a cave in France known as the Grotte de Cussac cave, which is located in the south west of the country.
The findings shed fresh light on the burial rituals of Paleolithic humans, which is also a member of the Gravettian culture of the European Upper Paleolithic. They are particularly notable for their prolific cave art "Venus" figurines, portraying voluptuous female figures and elaborate burial rituals. The culture has become famous among archaeologists.
Researchers have studies the cave and published their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous papers have reported about the findings of human remains, but the newest study is the first of its sort which provides a detailed description of all of them as well as a comprehensive analysis of the mortuary behaviours that led to the particular distribution of the bones.
The study reported that two areas of human remains was discovered, in which one included the skeleton of a young male adult in a shallow depression that was once a bear nest, along with the fragmentary remains of at least two other individuals spread across two other former bear nests.
The second discovery was found deeper in the cave where the remains of at least three individuals was found, which included two adults and one adolescent.
Several of the burials were similar to traits discovered in other Gravettian sites, but according to the authors of the paper, only a handful of characteristics appear unique to this ancient culture. A reason for this statement is that some of the remains were found much deeper into the cave than are associated with abundant rock art – an unusual feature for Gravettian burial sites – which contains more than 800 engravings.
"These human remains are located deep in the cave, which is a unique finding for this period – all previously known Gravettian burials are located in open air sites, rockshelters, or cave entrances," Sacha Kacki, with the French National Center for Scientific Research, told Newsweek.
He added: "The Grotte de Cussac is not only a burial place, but also a decorated cave. It is quite rare that Gravettian human remains are found close to (cave) art, and the Grotte de Cussac is the first discovered cave where the mortuary rites and the art are very likely contemporaneous. Most of the human remains in Cussac are disarticulated due to human manipulations of bones or body parts after or during decomposition. Although post-mortem manipulations of human remains have been previously documented for other Gravettian sites, some types of manipulations at Cussac are unknown elsewhere, including the removal of crania and the deliberate commingling of the remains of several individuals. These observations indicate diverse and complex mortuary behaviors during the Gravettian, which provides a window onto the social complexity of human groups from the Upper Paleolithic."