Archaeologists Find Evidence of 14,000 Year-Old Burial Rituals
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports on a discovery revealing 14,000-year-old burial rituals conducted by one of the earliest human cultures living in fixed settlements in what is now Israel.
Nearly 50 years ago, archaeologists uncovered the first true gravesites in the world in Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel, Israel. However, a more thorough excavation was recently carried out which revealed four burial sites containing a total of 29 skeletons, which contained impressions from plant stems and flowers, including mint, sage and other aromatic plants. The research team concluded that the flowers were placed in the grave before the bodies were buried there between 13,700 and 11,700 years ago.
The new find "is the oldest example of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead," said study co-author Dani Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.
The people who made the tombs were part of a Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago. They were the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a more sedentary one. They formed fixed settlements, built heavy furniture, domesticated the wolf, and began to experiment with domesticating wheat and barley. Soon after, humans evolved the first villages, developed agriculture and went on to develop some of the first empires in the world. It is also believed that the Natufian communities are the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world.
A lot is still unknown about the Natufians and how they came to develop such a sophisticated culture.
Further research continues to try to uncover who the skeletons belonged to, what type of people they were and why the graves were decorated with flowers.