A team of archeologists led by the University of Haifa has found the earliest known evidence of human beings using flowers in the ceremonial burial of the dead. According to a press release issued via Eureka Alert, the ancient cemetery was found in Raqefet Cave in Mt. Carmel, a coastal mountain range in northern Israel.
The team has unearthed four graves dating to the Natufian period (13,700 to 11,700 years ago) that contain the impressions of dozens of different plants, including Salvia, mints and sedges, indicating that the bodies were laid to rest on beds of flowers. The University of Haifa’s Prof. Dani Nadel, the leader of the excavation, said in the release, “This is another evidence that as far back as 13,700 years ago, our ancestors, the Natufians, had burial rituals similar to ours, nowadays.”
The Natufians are believed to have been among the first people on earth to abandon nomadic life and set up permanent dwellings. They erected structures with stone foundations and were among the first people to establish cemeteries for the dead that were used over successive generations.
At Raqefet cave, researchers found a Natufian cemetery with the bodies of 29 babies, children and adults. Most of the burials were single, but in some cases, bodies were buried together. The Natufians spread a layer of wet mud in each grave before strewing it with flowers, then laying in the body or bodies. The flowers and plant stems were pressed into the mud, which hardened like plaster, carrying an impression of the flowers into eternity even as the vegetal matter rotted away.
The types of plant stems and blossoms found in the mud indicate that the burials were conducted in springtime, and the Natufians favored “colorful and aromatic flowers” for the graves. And while people of all ages were buried in the graves, surrounded by tools and other possessions, only the plants left their impressions in the mud, meaning that the bodies are laid to rest on a thick bed of plant matter and that the mud at the bottom was long dry when it came into contact with bones, stones and tools.
“The Natufians lived at a time of many changes,” said Nadal in the release. “a time when population density was rising and the struggle for land, food and resources was increasing. The establishment of graveyards and unique burial rituals reflects the complexity of the Natufian society. Communal burial sites and elaborate rituals such as funeral ceremonies must have strengthened the sense of solidarity among the community members, and their feeling of unity in the face of other groups.”
Watch video about this story, embedded below via GeoBeats News: