Mysterious Pair Buried With Flowers—Oldest Example Yet

Imprints of stems and blossoms stamped into the dirt of ancient graves are the oldest definitive proof of flowers decorating graves—a common practice around the world today—a new study 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, which are located in a cave on northern Israel’s Mount Carmel.

Ancient mourners lined four graves with the flowers, most notably one that holds the bodies of two people. 

The pair—an adult male and an adolescent of undetermined sex—belonged to the primitive Natufian culture, which flourished between 15,000 and 11,600 years ago in an area that is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Read more.

Handle with animal figure
HaNahal Cave, Mt. Carmel
Natufian culture
10th millennium BCE
This masterly carving was found in 1928 in HaNahal Cave, on the western face of Mount Carmel, during archaeological explorations following quarrying for the construction of Haifa harbor. Subsequent excavations revealed a group of Early Natufian burials immediately below the spot where this animal figurine had been found. Originally described as a ‘young deer,’ this identification is by no means certain. The figurine is complete, carved from a long bone that had been split in two. Employing the natural protuberances of bone articulation, the upper part was used to
carve the head in three dimensions and the lower part to depict the body and legs. Details such as the mouth, muzzle, eyes, and horns – one of which is broken – are all depicted with great skill, making this one of the most beautiful examples of prehistoric art. The beginnings of the cultivation of cereals and legumes, the transitional period from hunter-gatherers to farmers, took place some 12,000 years ago, early in the Natufian period, within the ‘Levantine Corridor,’ the area stretching from the middle Euphrates through the Damascus Basin into the Lower Jordan Valley. The earliest agricultural tools from this period consist of grinding and pounding tools and sickles. Apparently, this piece once formed the end of a sickle handle.


FROM THE TRENCHES - A sweetly-scented grave for two, 12,000 years old.

A mysterious double burial found in a cave on northern Israel’s Mount Carmel is one of the oldest known examples of flowers used to honor the dead. Ancient mourners painstakingly lined the grave of the pair—an adult male and an adolescent of undetermined sex—with a layer of mud and laid them on a bed of aromatic plants which would have bloomed in pink and lavender. 

The Natufian society flourished between 15,000 and 11,600 years ago in an area that is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. It was one of the first—possibly the very first—to transition from a roaming hunter-gatherer lifestyle to permanent settlements, and was also the first to establish graveyards as we think of them today.

Carmel cavemen used plants in rituals 13,000 years ago, archaeologists find

Cavemen in ancient Israel not only buried their dead with flowers – they also apparently had an advanced culture of plant use, not only for consumption but for ritual as well.

The earliest evidence of using flower beds for burial, some 13,700 years ago, was reported in Raqefet Cave in Mt. Carmel last summer. In four different graves from the Natufian period, dating back to 13,700 to 11,700 years ago, dozens of impressions of salvia and other mint species were found under human skeletons.

Now Prof. Dani Nadel from the University of Haifa and his colleagues argue that use of plants in the Raqefet cave was much wider than for just burial rituals. Read more.