First Emperors on Earth; How Did They Honor Their Dead? The Oldest Flowers Reveal Step-by-Step Procedure [VIDEO]
Aromatic sage and mint linked graves were discovered on Israel's Mount Carmel.
Imprints of the stems and flowers of aromatic plants stamped into the dirt of ancient graves are the oldest definitive proof of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead (here, an ancient burial pit dating to nearly 14,000 years)-a mundane practice around the world today-a new finding says.
Scented flowering plants, such as mint and sage, were imprinted in soft mud after they decomposed some 12,000 years ago in the graves located in a cave on northern Israel's Mount Carmel. Ancient mourners lined four graves with the flowers, most notably one that holds a pair.
The pair-an adult male and an teen of undetermined sex-belonged to the primitive Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago in an area that is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
The Natufian society was the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to permanent settlements, and was also the first to establish true graveyards, said study leader Daniel Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.
"There are examples of groups living in a camp for a few years, but some of the [Natufian] sites we know about were used for thousands of years," Nadel said.
As Natufians planned to settle, they built heavy furniture, domesticated wolves, and started to experiment with domesticating wheat and barley. They created the first villages, established agriculture, and they formed the first empires on earth, according to Nadel.
The new finding reveals that the Natufians were the first to use flowers to honor their dead.
A dusting of pollen found at a 35,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site called Shanidar Cave in Iraq is the only possibly older instance of funerary flowers. However, some have argued that it was likely that rodents living in the caves brought the pollen there, not humans.
Researchers are yet to find an example of flowers decorating graves from the Neanderthal until the Natufians, according to the study that appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Nadel assumed that people might have used the flowers at the graves elsewhere, eventually the flowers might have decayed over time. "Finding such flowers is very difficult," Nadel said, according to National Geographic News. "Asking for such preservation is asking for a lot."
This evidence suggests that Natufians took great care when they buried their dead, especially a pair.
First, they dug a pit, and then they layered a thin layer of mud to cover the sides.
They used plants that bloom in pink and lavender to line the bottom of the grave, and only then they placed the dead inside. They chose only scented flowers that were very aromatic and that were lovey in appearance.
"There are hundreds of flowers on Mount Carmel during the spring, but only a small group provides very strong fragrances. It's impossible that the Natufians didn't recognize the smell" when they chose them for the graves, Nadel added, according to National Geographic News.
They were so concerned for the dead that were to be buried. Nadel imagines a great splendid burial.
"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."
"Each Natufian site provides something new and exciting to our knowledge on those people about 15,000 years ago." Anna Belfer-Cohen, an archaeologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in an email.
Nadal and his team will soon find out the age, and gender of pair buried in the flower-linked graves. More interestingly, they will find out how the individuals were related to each other, and "Are they parent and child? Are they brothers? Or friends? Did they die together? And how come they were buried together? We don't know," Nadel added.