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J Hum Evol. 2009 Apr;56(4):340-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.01.001. Epub 2009 Apr 11.

Funerary practices of the Iberomaurusian population of Taforalt (Tafoughalt; Morocco, 11-12,000BP): new hypotheses based on a grave by grave skeletal inventory and evidence of deliberate human modification of the remains.

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  • 1Laboratorio di Bioarcheologia ed Osteologia Forense - Antropologia, Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica Sperimentale, Universit√† di Bologna, Via Selmi 3, 40126 Bologna, Italy.


The Iberomaurusian necropolis of Taforalt (Morocco, 11-12,000BP), excavated by Roche in the 1950s, contains 28 multiple graves. The osteological collection has been the focus of many anthropological studies and has been used as a comparative sample for other paleoanthropological investigations. The presence of particular sepulchral structures and the use of ochre testify to complex funerary practices, which have not been adequately investigated thus far. Unfortunately, neither the excavation records nor detailed descriptions of the graves are available today. The aim of this study is to investigate the funerary practices of the population based on examination of the human osteological collection (Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Paris). The bones of adolescents and adults were inventoried to analyse the contents of each grave and the distribution of intentionally modified specimens (ochre-dyeing, cutmarks). The minimum number of individuals was also calculated. The results suggest that the necropolis is a group of primary and secondary burials, even within the same "grave," of about 40 adolescents and adults. The previous estimate of 86 individuals by Ferembach in 1962 appears to be an overestimation. The presence of red ochre and cutmarks on some bones suggests various rituals, which denote a certain profundity of thinking about life and death. It is possible that the Taforalt cave was a special, perhaps sacred, place where particular rituals were celebrated or where more occasional social or religious events took place. Comparison with other Iberomaurusian and Capsian sites provides evidence of cultural continuity in North Africa for a long period of time. The present study demonstrates that re-examination of human osteological collections deriving from ancient excavations, for which a lack of adequate documentation of the context of the specimens is fairly common, can also provide information about aspects like funerary practices, which are usually investigated on the basis of other sources.

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