| 7 July 2013
Prehistoric pair buried with flowers
Israeli archaeologists have unearthed 12,000-old Natufian society graves that are the oldest-ever proof that flowers were used for decorating graves. The Natufian society flourished between 15,000 and 11,600 years ago in an area that is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and is considered to be one of the first to reside in permanent villages instead of being nomadic, according to University of Haifa archaeologist Daniel Nadel.
Carbon dating revealed that the graves were between 11,700 and 13,700 years old and were discovered in the nearby Mount Carmel area overlooking Haifa, with imprints of flowering plants, such as mint and sage, stamped into the dirt of the ancient graves.
Ancient mourners lined four graves with the flowers, most notably one that holds the bodies of two people: an adult male and an adolescent of undetermined sex. The new discovery indicates that the Natufians were also among the first to use flowers to honor their dead.
The evidence suggests the pair's grave was prepared with great care. First, a pit was dug, and then a thin veneer of mud was used to cover the sides. The bottom of the grave was lined with the plant - which bloom in pink and lavender - before the bodies were placed inside. "There are hundreds of flowers on Mount Carmel during the spring, but only a small group provide very strong fragrances. It's impossible that the Natufians didn't recognize the smell," Nadel explained.
Twenty-nine skeletons, all within a 160 square-foot area, were found several years ago, but meticulous research recently led Nadel to reach his conclusions. Nadel estimated that the burial were very ceremonial because animal bones also were found in the cave cemetery. "They didn't just place the bodies inside the graves and leave," he said. "We have to envision a colorful ceremony that maybe included dancing, singing, and eating. They may have hunted a few animals and had a big meal around the graves and then threw bones or meat inside."
The only potentially older instance of funerary flowers is a dusting of pollen found at the site of an approximately 70,000-year-old grave of a Neanderthal dubbed Shanidar IV in Iraq. However, some scientists have argued that holes found at that site were made by burrowing rodents that stored seeds and flowers in the grave. Nadel and his team are currently working to identify the age, gender, and relationship of the individuals in the flower-lined graves.
Edited from National Geographic Daily News, The Jewish Press (1 July 2013)
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