Ground Penetrating Radar
Geophysical survey using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) was conducted in the chambers of Liang Tebo (Extended Data Fig. 1). GPR data collection was undertaken using a Malå X3M with a 500 Mhz antenna utilising a time window of 62 ns with 1024 samples, a trace interval of 2 cm and four stacks. Data were processed using ReflexW software with a suite of filters, including Move Start time, Dewow, Energy Decay, Bandpass Butterworth, Background Remove and Time Cut. ERT data collection was undertaken using a ZZ Flash Res-64 using an electrode spacing of 0.5 m, collected in Wenner and Dipole-Dipole arrays with k values of 20 and a Dipole-Dipole l value of 5. Acquisition was undertaken with 120V, an on-time of 1.2 and an off-time of 0.2 seconds. Data was output using ZZ RData Check software, then inverted in Res2D using the robust scheme, and displayed with a colour scale constructed using the Jenks Breaks feature with ArcGIS.
Sedimentary features within the deposit, such as hearths and all other sediment changes, were excavated separately following stratigraphic boundaries. Homogenous sediments, when encountered, were excavated in arbitrary excavation units (XU), measuring between 1 cm and 5 cm in thickness. Materials and sedimentary features were recorded with 3D plotting and laser scanning, using a Leica MS60 Robotic Total Station. All artefacts larger than ~19 mm in maximum dimension were plotted in 3D, and all stratigraphic features were laser-scanned. All sediments were sieved using 1.5 mm screens, while feature sediments (including those surrounding the burial) were sieved using a soft nylon 0.5 mm screen. Whether recovered in situ or from sieved residues, all artefacts can be precisely associated with both a stratigraphic unit (SU) and an excavation unit (XU). Cultural materials recovered throughout include stone artefacts, ochre, shell, faunal remains, and macrobotanical remains, with a total lack of ceramic and metal finds. Human remains and all other delicate artefacts were excavated using handheld softwood tools to prevent damage, with other sediments removed via fine leaf trowel. First encountered at 0.87 m depth in the western squares, the TB1 burial feature had a strongly defined stratigraphic boundary with distinctive infill sediment: revealing the grave cuts into SU8. The latter unit was marked by a very different colour and texture—a weakly cemented white (10YR 8/1) calcitic silt (Extended Data Fig. 2)—making grave cut boundaries particularly distinctive (Extended Data Fig. 3). The thin western margins of the burial cut partially cross-sectioned by the western excavation wall, served to define these stratigraphic relationships in profile (Extended Data Fig. 2). Feature boundaries of the burial were unique to surrounding and overlying strata, constituting a ‘manufactured’ stratum31 modifying SU8. These observations rule out placement of the body into natural crevices or deposition via natural processes32, 33, and instead support an interpretation of a deliberately excavated grave cut into SU8. Placement of large stratigraphically analogous limestone rocks as burial markers (Extended Data Fig. 3) further distinguished the upper surface of the grave and supports the case of deliberate burial. A red ochre (earth pigment) nodule adjacent TB1’s mandible on the left clavicle (Fig. 2b) is likely to be a mortuary good placed near the mouth. Anatomical integrity and articulation of unstable joints, the first to decompose, support a primary and relatively undisturbed burial (Fig. 2a).
Throughout the nine SUs (Extended Data Fig. 2), a total of 10 in situ radiocarbon dating samples (charcoal plotted in 3D during excavation) were dated by (AMS14C) at the Direct AMS laboratory, in Seattle U.S.A (Extended Data Table 2). Dates are calibrated using OxCal v. 4.4, with the Northern Hemisphere Atmospheric curve [IntCal20]34.
Coupled uranium-series and Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) dating was undertaken at Southern Cross University at the GARG facility on a left mandibular molar (M3). The tooth was first cut in half using a rotating diamond saw with a blade of 300 microns, before being polished to 5 micron smoothness. The sample was then analysed for uranium-series isotopes and concentration in both dentine and enamel using a laser ablation NWR ESI 213 laser coupled with a MC-ICPMS Neptune XT from Thermo Fisher to calculate the internal dose rate. An enamel fragment was then measured on a Freiberg MS5000 ESR X-band spectrometer and irradiated with the Freiberg X-ray irradiation chamber. ESR intensities were extracted from the merged spectra obtained on the angular variation measurements35 (e.g., Extended Data Fig. 7), after correcting for baseline, subtraction of isotropic signals, and assessment of NOCORS contribution using the published protocol36, 37 (e.g., Extended Data Fig. 7). Dose response curve were obtained using the MCDOSE 2.0 software38 (Extended Data Fig. 7). All age calculations were carried out with the DATA program39.
Bone preservation is assessed both in terms of completeness (how much of the skeleton is there) and taphonomy (post-depositional processes that have affected the bones). Skeletal and dental completeness, post-depositional processes including colour change, root damage, animal scavenging marks, sun and water exposure, post-mortem breakage and surface erosion were each assessed40, 41.
The TB1 individual was morphologically an adult, therefore adult age-at death estimation techniques were applied. Pubic symphysis and auricular surface degeneration stage methods were compared to standards42, 43. Different fusion timings of the various epiphyses allow for a narrow age estimate in late teenage years to early adulthood. Epiphyses (growth plates) that do not fuse until early adulthood such as the medial end of the clavicle were assessed following Schaefer et al.44. Dental eruption, wear, and formation methods supplemented these age estimation protocols 45-49.
Regression equations are applied for estimating stature from the maximum length of long bones. The right femur and tibia were considered the most valuable bone for stature estimation due to its relationship in contributing to stature and preservation. Australo-Melanesian populations rather than East or Southeast Asian populations are likely to provide better estimates for pre-Neolithic individuals from Southeast Asia. ‘American Black’ stature estimate standards are used50-51 due to similar proportions of the contribution of maximum tibia lengths, with 10 mm adjustments to the maximum tibial lengths51. Estimates for comparative pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers in Southeast Asia have traditionally been estimated from modern Asian populations in the United States, even if they predate migration of groups with morphological affinity to modern East Asians to the region. Therefore, these stature estimates are provided for comparison to other pre-Neolithic modern humans.
A full skeletal assessment of abnormal bone changes was completed. Lesions (any pathological bone loss, growth, or deformity) were recorded following revised standard protocols52-54. Bone lesion location, aspects affected, percentage of bone affected by lesion, and bone type affected (cortical, trabecular and/or medullary canal) were recorded to assess spatial distribution of lesions. The level of healing, margin definition, presence of necrotic bone (sequestrum), presence of shape changes to the bone, focality (focal, multifocal, or diffuse), laterality, symmetricity and lesion size were recorded to reconstruct progression and pattern of disease for differential diagnosis. Lesions were compared against clinical and palaeopathological literature to determine possible candidates for disease origin (aetiology of the disease). Trauma analysis (e.g., fractures) followed protocols55 to describe the mechanism of injury, force, type and time of trauma, and degree and complications to healing.
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