A new investigation of an ancient remote Nicaraguan village has revealed the oldest known burial of a human in lower Central America, dating back to circa 3900 BC, nearly 6,000 years ago, representing what archaeologists say is an “important contribution to our understanding of the early peopling of the region.” What’s more – the woman was seriously jacked.
Measuring just under 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches) in height, she was found undisturbed in a shallow oval pit lined with basalt and a layer of charcoal-rich sediment 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) below the surface in an excavation conducted in collaboration with local indigenous populations.
“This individual represents the earliest-known burial from the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, demonstrating the importance of the site for understanding the early history of lowland Central America and, potentially, the peopling of the Caribbean, and the urgent need for its protection and further evaluation," wrote the authors in the journal Antiquity.
Found on her back in a flexed position and under a mound of seashells, it’s likely the individual – identified as female due to the bone morphology, and estimated to have been between 25 and 40 years old – was buried during a ceremony of some sort. Her discovery is particularly unique as tropical places don’t typically preserve human remains well, but the shell mound could have reduced the acidity of the soil for preservation.
“The burial ritual most probably involved depositing the body into a prepared shallow pit, with legs flexed on top of the body,” wrote the authors. “The subsequent collapse of the legs outside of the shallow pit might indicate some form of covering of the body, or possible desiccation prior to decomposition.
Despite the woman's small size, she had "strongly developed musculature of the forearm — possibly from rowing or similar activities," lead author Mirjana Roksandic told Live Science.
First excavated in the 1970s, the Angi shell-matrix site is found in the Afro-descent community of Monkey Point. Radiocarbon dating indicates it was inhabited around 5560 BC. According to the researchers, precolonial history in the region is limited by lack of archaeological research and radiometric dating. Because of this, archaeologists believed that the region was sparsely populated and characterized by a “technological delay” when compared with the rest of Central America. Characterized by lush vegetation cover, the Carribean Coast of Nicaragua has wet conditions even in the driest of months. Large rivers and lagoons would have made major communication routes for both modern and past inhabitants, meaning the Angi site could have potentially had implications for trade.