The infant burials were similar to those for Gravettian adults, whose remains often include mammoth bones and jewelry, says anthropologist Olga Soffer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"What is unusual is the extreme youth of these," she
says."Dead kids are few and far between, and the younger you get the fewer there are."The effort taken to bury and decorate the remains implies the infants or their families were held in high esteem, she
Studying the Austrian infants or any DNA extracted from them may contribute to the debate over whether or not humans and Neandertals exchanged DNA, Soffer
says.In recent weeks researchers have presented evidence that humans and Neandertals interbred when humans left Africa 30,000-40,000 years ago.Human skeletons found in Romania seem to show certain Neandertal traits, for example.The new remains could be examined for similar features, Soffer
observes."It will always be a little problematic because they're not mature, but it will be an important point of reference," she
says."There's lots and lots of exciting potential here."-- JR Minkel