One summer 11,500 years ago, two baby girls, possibly twins, were buried in an Ice Age village in central Alaska—one about 5 weeks old and the other a fetus, possibly a stillborn. Today, the girls' remains are the oldest in the North American arctic, Smithsonian reports. Archaeologists recently discovered their grave in a hearth—the girls were wrapped and covered in red ochre—at the Upward Sun River site, which has opened what one archaeologist calls "new windows" into the life and burial practices of people at the end of the Ice Age. That's because the girls were found underneath a later burial—the cremated remains of a 3-year-old girl. The difference in treatment may suggest the people at Upward Sun River had complex funerary practices, perhaps burying their dead differently based on age or time of year.
In the newly excavated grave, archaeologists also found a "hunter's toolkit" of antler foreshafts and sharpened stones—the first evidence of their use together, adds LiveScience—and critical materials for the nomadic hunters. That they were left in the grave "bespeaks of the deep sense of loss and sorrow these people must have felt at the loss of their children," one researcher tells Smithsonian. And the deaths of three children, so close together and likely to the same mother, suggests a hard life for Ice Age people. "They suffered losses along the way in their quest to colonize the Americas," says an archaeologist not involved with the dig. Scientists will now study the girls' DNA to unearth a link between similar graves in Montana and Siberia, on the other side of the land bridge. (Another recent archaeological dig uncovered a mass sacrifice of children and llamas.)