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Opinion: An 8,000-year-old lesson

There is urgent news all over the world, but this week I also thought of a child who lived 8,000 years ago.

The small teeth of the child, who was possibly 10 or 3 years old, were extracted from what appears to be a burial site in eastern Finland. A microscopic analysis of the site was recently published in the journal of the Public Library of Science.

Researchers discovered the grave when a forest path was cleared, revealing a band of red ocher – a clay known to be used in burials. The soil in Finland is acidic, so only traces remain at the site today. Two quartz arrowheads were found with the small teeth. There were also fragments of feathers. Scientists speculate that the child’s body may have been laid on a bed of down, or possibly wrapped in a feather coat.

Small hairs were found on the child’s feet, from a wolf — or a dog.

Kristiina Mannermaa, from the Department of Cultures at the University of Helsinki, said dogs had been found alongside remains in other ancient burial sites.

“All of this gives us very valuable insight into Stone Age burial habits,” she said in a statement, “indicating how people prepared the child for the afterlife journey.”

These words pierce the academic prose of the statement: “…prepared the child for the journey after death.”

8,000 years ago, life for all had to be reduced to simple survival. The perpetual pain of hunger; competition for food with humans and other animals; the deadly risk of cold, floods and disease.

We often look at other times or other people, even now, and think we don’t see ourselves. We don’t feel anything in common. We ask ourselves: how could people do that, think or feel that way?

But we can look to the story of the child lying in the ground so long ago to see that people who had to struggle just to survive each day still have time and room in their hearts to take care of this child. They put the child to bed and wrapped him in softness. They placed a dog or a wolf nearby to keep them on a journey somewhere beyond.

It may be impossible to know where the people who buried that child thought they were going, regardless of their outlook on life and the afterlife. But it seems they wanted the child to feel warm. They wanted them not to be alone. They wanted this child to know they were loved.

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