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Photos: Cave excavation shows flowers used in burials over 13,000 years ago

The Natufians, the first people in the world to abandon the nomadic way of life, buried their dead on beds of colourful and sweet-smelling plants.
Jul 4th 2013, 9:00 PM 9,978 38

Field photo of skeletons, an adult and adolescent, left, and a reconstruction of the double burial (Image: E Gerstein).

THE EARLIEST EVIDENCE of using flower beds for burial, dating back to 13,700 years ago, has been discovered in a cave in Mount Carmel, Israel.

In an excavation led by the University of Haifa, four different graves from the Natufian period, revealed dozens of impressions of Salvia plants and other species of sedges and mints under human skeletons.

Professor Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa said that this is further evidence that as far back as 13,700 years ago, “our ancestors had burial rituals similar to ours nowadays”.

The Natufians, who lived some 15,000 to 11,500 years ago were the first in the world to abandon the nomadic way of life and settle in permanent settlements.

They were also among the first to establish cemeteries – confined areas in which they buried their community members for generations. These were usually located at the first chambers of caves or on terraces below.

One of these cemeteries, containing 29 skeletons of babies, children and adults was discovered at Raqufet Cave on Mount Carmel. The plant impressions were found in four graves, on a thin layer of mud veneer which was presumably spread like plaster inside the grave.

(Image: E Gerstein)

The impressions are mostly plants with square stems, common among the mint family. In one incident flowering stems of Judaen Sage were found, one of three Sage species currently growing in the vicinity of the cave.

(Image: E Gerstein)

These findings have led researchers to suggest that the burials were conducted in springtime, using colourful and aromatic flower and are the earliest examples of this happening.

Samples from three different human skeletons in the cave were dated to 13,700 to 11,700 years ago.

(Image: E Bartov)

“The Natifians lived at a time of many changes – a time when population density was rising and the struggle for land, food and resources was increasing,” Nadel said. “The establishment of graveyards and unique burial rituals reflects the complexity of the Natufian society.”

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Michelle Hennessy

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