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People Buried with Love and Honor 15,000 Years Ago

It has been known since the discovery of Neanderthal burials in Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq that they buried their dead with love and honor, and now it has been discovered that modern human were also doing this. The Neanderthal burials date from 60,000 years ago, and the recently discovered modern human remains, buried on a bed of flowers, date from 15,000 years.

A grave found on Mount Carmel in northern Israel contained a man and a woman buried on a bed of fragrant wild flowers, such as Judean sage, as well as blooming plants of the mint and figwort families. Assuming they had the same positive associations with flowers that we do today, these ancient humans must have sought to ensure for the deceased a pleasant passage from the world of the living. Perhaps because flowers die every yea and "resurrect" in the flowing spring, this was an early expression of religion.

So far, the team hasn't carbon-dated any of the skeletons found in the graves, but carbon dating has gotten much more precise. In the past, radiocarbon dating required relatively large amounts of material , but that has changed- dating can now be performed on a sample as small as a few milligrams.

Anthropologist Elisabetta Boaretto says, " This discovery is the oldest known use of flowers in grave lining."

The Neanderthal graves in Shanidar Cave were excavated in 1957, and pollens found near the bodies indicate that mountain flowers had been gathered and placed over them.

  • Image Credit:
  • E. Gerstein, Haifa University


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