Oldest grave decorated with flowers found in Israel


Share post:

Archaeologists in Israel say they have found evidence of the earliest examples of flowers being used to decorate graves at a site inhabited by a Natufian population around 12,000 years ago.

Oldest grave decorated with flowers found in Israel
A) Field photograph of skeletons Homo 25 (adult, on left) and Homo 28 (adolescent, on right) during excavation. Note the almost vertical slab behind the skull of Homo 25 and the missing skull of H28. Photograph reproduced with permission from E. Gernstein. (Scale bar: 20 cm.) (B) A reconstruction of the double burial at the time of inhumation. The skull of Homo 25 was displaced in the grave long after burial (A), but originally the head was facing upwards. The skull of Homo 28 was ritually removed months or years after burial. Note the bright veneer inside the grave on the right, partially covered by green plants [Credit: (c) PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1302277110]

The Natufians are considered to be one of the first, if not the first, human societies to reside in permanent villages rather than live a nomadic life, according to University of Haifa archaeologist Daniel Nadel. Carbon dating revealed that the graves were between 11,700 and 13,700 years old.

The graves 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.

“From [the Neanderthal] example until the Natufians (a period spanning some 50,000 years) there is not one example” of flowers decorating graves, Nadel and his team wrote in a study published Monday in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People may have been using flowers during the entire period, but “finding such flowers is very difficult” since they decay, Nadel added.

He based the importance of the use of flowers on evidence that indicates that the place of burial was dug out and that a thin veneer of mud, a form of primitive plaster, was used to cover the sides. Plants lined the bottom of the grave before bodies were buried, and scented flowers were likely chosen as much for their aromas as their appearance.

“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 recognise 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. The impression from plant stems and flowers indicated that they may have been from sage and mint and other aromatic plants.

The researched were able to identify them under a scanning electron microscope.

Nadel estimated that the burials 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.”

Like today, the grave flowers were intended both for those who died and for the survivors. 

Source: Euronews [July 02, 2013]




Related articles

Ability to throw played a key role in human evolution

It's easy to marvel at the athleticism required to throw a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, but when Neil Roach watches...

Decades of neglect for one of Australia’s best fossil deposits

Buried beneath a dirt road in the middle of the New South Wales central tablelands lie a few...

British MPs introduce Bill to return Parthenon Sculptures to Greece

A cross-party group of MPs has launched a fresh bid to return the so-called Elgin Marbles to Greece...

Babylonian mathematics said to rival genius of Pythagoras

Over 1,000 years before Pythagoras was calculating the length of a hypotenuse, sophisticated scribes in Mesopotamia were working...

Historic shipyard remains unearthed

Archaeologists working at an east London Crossrail site have uncovered remains of the historic Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company.  Excavation...

Evidence of terrace farming found at Petra

A team of international archaeologists including Christian Cloke of the University of Cincinnati is providing new insights into...

Solar storms may cause global Katrina any time warn scientists

As the Sun set to enter its 'most active' period, the Earth may now be more vulnerable to...

Sense of smell jumpstarted brain evolution

Mammals have much bigger brains than other animals. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why, but new research published this...