“Lay Some Flowers on My Grave”

Oldest grave flowers discovered in Israel

More than 14,000 years ago, an adult male and adolescent of the Natufian culture were buried with flowers in a double grave. It is the earliest known example of flowers being placed with a burial. Photo: M. Eisenberg, E. Gerstein, A. Regev.

Fourteen-thousand-year-old examples of grave flowers have been uncovered in burials in Israel from the Natufian culture. The Natufians lived in the Levant from 13,000–9800 B.C. The culture was remarkable in that it was sedentary—or at least semi-sedentary—before the introduction of agriculture.

Impressions of ancient flowers were found in Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel. Although excavations concluded at the cave several decades ago, the contents of the cave are still being analyzed by a team led by Dr. Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa. Based on cross-sections taken of the flower impressions, the team was able to identify several aromatic plants, such as mint and sage. Additionally, the team determined that the flowers had been laid in plaster inside the grave before the bodies were interred. The findings were recently detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more about the Natufian burial.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Why Study Prehistoric Israel?

12,000-Year-Old Shaman Funeral Reflects Natufian-Period Changes

No Matches? No Problem. Ancient Fire-Making in Israel

Manot Cave Skull Links Modern Humans to Neanderthals

Going Paleo: Prehistoric site in Israel offers menu for a Paleolithic diet

The Ancient Bean Diet: Fava Beans Favored in Prehistoric Israel


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  • DALLAS says

    Customs like sprinkling rice or placing flowers on graves are probably rooted in a belief in a physical afterlife or in bodily resurrection.

    Narrowly construed, “biblical archaeology” is the archaeology of the Levant in the biblical period, from the Late Bronze Age to the end of classical antiquity, more or less. But the physical remains of the land obviously stretch back much further, so there’s no problem here with publishing the kind of finding you see here.

    And “biblical archaeology” is archaology about the Bible as a text, as well as the people and lands associated with it — two religions that “own” the Bible and a third related to the same tradition are historical religions rooted in particular and real times and places. But it’s not a theological exercise, and it in no way requires a belief in “young Earth” creationism. Indeed, it requires no religion (in the sense of theological beliefs) at all.

    The Bible doesn’t require belief in creationism — it doesn’t come with a complete and universal calendar or a cosmological theory. Universal chronologies that underlie modern creationism were first constructed in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Jewish and Christian scholars and were forerunners of modern scientific chronologies — but they don’t pass muster as science today. Such chronologies didn’t exist in ancient times — the chronologies of those days were partial and often patchwork affairs.

  • John says

    Why do you believe in God. What’s the point if you can’t believe his word. Are we not discovering year on year more evidence that backs the bible up. Have Archaeologists not discovered nearly every town and city talked about in genesis. So I suggest you give a more respect to the 2500 year old book instead of some new rambling scientist theory’s and crazy unproven dating techniques.

  • Prof says

    On the evidence of remains of pollen from a grave at Shanidar it has been suggested that flowers were placed with the Neanderthal man buried there, and on archaeological criteria this would place it before 40-50,000 years ago at least. Apologies to the fundamentalists among you, but as an archaeologist I place greater store by the still limited knowledge we have from scientific approaches to the development of the world rather than the unscientific guesses from 2500 years ago and which appear in the ancient literature such as the Bible, interesting though it is. But I fear that from the age of 15 I have been an agnostic.

  • JAllan says

    Gayle and Jerry make some good points. Fundamentalism is basically the attitude of the Pharisees transferred from “perfect actions” to “perfect beliefs.” Jesus preached spirit, the prophets foretold a time when the Torah would be “written on men’s hearts,” and Paul warned that overemphasis on literal details puts a strain on spiritual connection with God and other people when he wrote “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Early Christianity was essentially mystical in that it emphasized the inner voice of Spirit; there was no “orthodox” creed uniting the whole church in literal belief, but there was a Spirit uniting them even as they debated (originally in a pure, mutually respectful manner, but later, hatefully) the details of theology. The letters of Paul and the Gospels reflect varying theological attitudes and historical details that cannot mesh perfectly (compare IN DETAIL the Matthew and Luke nativities, for example) as inerrant “dictations” by God, manuscripts were changed over the centuries (more than most Christians realize), and falsely “ghost-written” manuscripts, especially those naming Paul as the author, appeared centuries after the deaths of their authors. This is the evidence-based result of very careful unbiased study by scholars of the last few centuries, once the mainstream of Christianity realized that some details in the Bible “ain’t necessarily so” and began studying the Biblical texts scientifically.

    Does this mean that the faith of non-fundamentalists is dead or weak? No, the faith in Spirit is stronger when it does not depend on the brittle interpretation of the exact words written down by men (and maybe some women who are not credited) when God stirred their souls, then let them express that stirring in the words and understanding of their culture and time. The Bible is not so much a God-authored and God-edited textbook as it is the “lecture notes” of the students of God who came before us.

    Whatever prompted those ancient people to honor their dead with flowers was the Spirit of God, felt by them as being some spirits or deities unnamed. Their descendants eventually refined their understanding into the major faiths of the world, and into the mutual understanding of people of faith from diverse heritages. Let us all continue to refine our faith as we refine our knowledge.

    Blessings to all!

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