Oldest Grave Decorated With Flowers Discovered In Israel

As incredible as it sounds, humans have been decorating the graves of their loved ones for thousands of years, according to research about a recently unearthed burial site discovered in Israel.

The discovery was made in an area of what is now Mount Carmel, Israel, that since 2004 has yielded hundreds of skeletons belonging to the Natufian people of the Mesolithic era, according to National Public Radio. Evidence of flowering plants was discovered among four of these remains, which botanists believe were lined with scented plants including sage and mint about 12,000 years ago.

Lead researcher Daniel Nadel, a professor of archaeology at the University of Haifa, highlighted the find -- thought to be the oldest of its kind -- in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's lined, it's prepared, it's colorful," Nadel told NPR of the graves and their decorations. "It added color and fragrance, and probably all those at the funeral were impressed. So it was for the dead and for the living."

Researchers also determined that the dead had been carefully positioned in their cave grave sites, with the flowers used as a sort of bed, according to In some cases, impressions of the plants were still visible in the mud.

As Nadel and his co-authors explain in their paper, the relatively sophisticated layout of the newly discovered graves has historical significance for the region's cultural evolution.

"The emergence of Natufian cemeteries ... may represent new and complex social organizations which could have included the establishment or strengthening of special interest groups, inheritance of corporate property, territorial ownerships, and aspects of social organization," the authors wrote, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The Natufian culture existed between 15,000 and 11,600 years ago in what is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, according to National Geographic. During this time, the Natufians made the transition from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a communal life in settlements that included, notably, graveyards.

The only possibly older example of floral funeral arrangements is associated with the Shanidar IV Neanderthal grave believed to be about 70,000 years old, according to the outlet. However, the grave is more controversial, with some scientists arguing pollen traces found there were transferred from rodents.