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July 3, 2013 12:11 pm

Archaeologists in Israel Discover Oldest Example of Burial Flowers

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A Jewish graveyard. Photo: Roman Zacharij.

The oldest example of grave flowers has been discovered in Israel, LiveScience reported Monday.

The find “is the oldest example of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead,” Dani Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel, wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The ancient impressions from stems and flowers of aromatic plants such as mint and sage, were discovered at an ancient burial pit dating to nearly 14,000 years ago located in Raqefet Cave, in Mount Carmel.

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The people who made the tombs were part of a Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago.

Nadel told LiveScience that the Natufians were the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a more sedentary one.

According to Nadel, they formed fixed settlements, built heavy furniture, domesticated the wolf, and began to experiment with farming wheat and barley.

Though archaeologists first excavated Raqefet Cave years ago, Nadel and his colleagues did a more thorough excavation starting in 2004. The team found four burial sites, with 29 skeletons in total, which when studied under a microscope were found to contain the impressions from plant stems and flowers.

The team concluded that the flowers were placed in the grave within a primitive plaster before the bodies were buried.

Still, the team has not reached a conclusion as to why the graves were decorated with flowers or who the deceased were.  Nadel told LiveScience he is hoping to do DNA analysis on the skeletons to see how or whether they are related.

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