Monday, August 13, 2012

The Red Lady of Paviland

The Red Lady's Skull
It sounds like a title to a nursery rhyme, but the Red Lady of Paviland is a major point in European History. In 1823, William Buckland discovered a nearly complete human fossil covered in red ochre  in the south of Wales. Little did he know that he had discovered not only the first human fossil, but he discovered the oldest evidence we have today of ceremonial burial. Buckland however believed he had found the bones of a Roman era female, but recent studies on the fossil have pointed to the fact that the remains are of a young male from around 33,000 years ago.

Actual picture of the burial.

Along with the remains of the young "lady" was the skull of a mammoth. This points a little bit to what type of lifestyle the red lady led. He probably hunted game, which meant he was at least semi-nomadic. Another factor that points to his being part of a semi-nomadic tribe is that a study on his bones revealed that some 15-20% of his diet was fish. This shouldn't be surprising considering that the location he was found at is close to the ocean. However, at the time of his burial the site was some 70 miles from the sea. This meant that either he died on the coast and was carried up 70 miles to bury or that the tribe he was a part of traveled from coast to inland and back again chasing their food.

The ceremonial burial of the red lady marks a time in which human beings were probably blazing new paths in religious life. The use of red ochre would become a common burial practice over much of Europe in later times. In fact though, as old as the Red Lady's burial is it isn't the first time red ochre was used to bury the dead. Neanderthals had used red ochre in burial ceremonies dating back hundreds of thousands of years. So, while the Red Lady might have been a first for anatomically modern humans, he wasn't quite the trendsetter we've made him out to be.


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  3. Come on, guys, that is not a modern human skull! The remains have no skull!

  4. You have labeled the speculative art work above as "actual picture of the burial" do know there is no actual picture of the burial. This is an imaginary reconstruction. Are you a college student somewhere?

  5. Interesting post, the Red Lady of Paviland is an interesting find of Britain. However there was never a skull found with The Red Lady of Paviland. The skull you show is actually that of "Mrs Ples", the fossil hominin skull from the Sterk­fontein Caves in South Africa (fossil number STS 5) that is from Australopithecus africanus, a species of human ancestor, 2.15 million years old and found in 1947 by a Dr Robert Broom. Although interestingly, there are opinions now whether it should infact be a Mr Ples! I did my BSc degree in human evolution that's all so couldn't help but recognise it.