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Ancient Tribe Buried Dead With Flowers, Researchers Say

Raqefet cave floral burials
Photographic evidence that more than 100 centuries ago, ancient people lined graves with aromatic flowers, mint and sage. This grave in modern Israel was covered by plant impressions. Photograph by E. Bartov. Source: University of Haifa via Bloomberg.

More than 100 centuries ago, ancient people transitioning from nomadic life honored their dead by lining graves with aromatic flowers, mint and sage, Israeli archaeologists say.

“This is more evidence that as far back as 13,700 years ago, our ancestors had burial rituals similar to ours,” said excavator Dani Nadel. The University of Haifa researcher gave his findings last night, saying that the dig had uncovered what he defined as one of the earliest examples of a cemetery.

Twenty-nine skeletons were discovered in the Raqefet cave on the Carmel mountain, which today is part of the Israeli port city of Haifa. Some 14,000 years ago the area was densely populated by the Natufians, whose name derived from a stream.

In four different graves dating as far back as 13,700 years, impressions of different species of sedges and mints were found under the skeletons, the university said in a news release.

“They laid their dead on a sheet of herbs and flowers that gave off a pleasant smell,” Reuven Yeshurun, a University of Haifa archaeologist who participated in the project, said by phone. “They invested an effort in a ceremony that united the society. This is a custom that is no longer nomadic and shows the Natufians were in a very interesting transition stage.”

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