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Evidence at ancient graves suggest ceremonial use of flowers

By Leigh Goessl     Jul 15, 2013 in Science
Experts working in northern Israel have found prehistoric graves with the bodies positioned atop flowers. Experts place the graves at being over 10,000 years old. This is the oldest discovery of funerary floral use that has been found to date.
A new study suggests prehistoric people who lived in what is now modern day northern Israel held ceremonial burials which included flowers, not unlike people do in the modern day. Evidence was found by an international team working at the Mount Carmel site.
Archeologists had uncovered graves with the bodies positioned on beds of wild and fragrant flowers, reported UPI.
The scientists found imprints and blossoms of the flowers in the mud of what appears to be carefully constructed graves, which were located in a cave. It appeared the prehistoric mourners lined the graves with flowers, a total of four graves were found. One held the bodies of two people, reported National Geographic.
"Flowering plants possess mechanisms that stimulate positive emotional and social responses in humans. It is difficult to establish when people started to use flowers in public and ceremonial events because of the scarcity of relevant evidence in the archaeological record," said the study's authors.
According to a press release from the Weizmann Institute of Science, the age of the graves was calculated using radiocarbon dating.
Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, performed the dating and has determined the graves to have been made between 11,700 to 13,700 years ago.
The graves were made by the Natufians. This civilization was populated by hunter-gatherers and lived in the Near East.
The types of flowers found in the mud at the dig site intrigued researchers.
"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" when they chose them for the graves," lead author Daniel Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel, told National Geographic.
It was previously established that the Natufians did bury their dead with ornamental objects, such as bones and stone artwork.
"They didn't just place the bodies inside the graves and leave," Nadel 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 Natufians lived in what is now modern day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
This find represents the oldest evidence of flowers ever to be found at a gravesite. There is one other possibility in what is modern day Iraq from 50,000 years earlier, but this has never been determined for sure. Some experts believe the pollen dust found at this gravesite came from burrowing rodents.
The research team is continuing study at the Mount Carmel site. They hope to determine the age, gender and relationship of the deceased.
The full study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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