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Remembering our dead with flowers an ancient tradition, researchers say. 14,000 years ago!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At graveside, we frequently leave behind flowers in memory of the deceased. Archaeologists say that humans have been decorating graves with flowers for almost 14,000 years. The first evidence the tradition of floral tributes has been dug up in Israel where sage, mint and other plants were used in ceremonial burials.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When we leave flowers on gravesites today, it is intended as a sign of respect or remembrance. In ancient times - flowers probably served a more utilitarian purpose - disguising the stench of the rotting corpse. It was also believed that scent of the plants would stop animals being attracted to the grave to dig up the body.

The ancient Romans often laid out the ground of the tomb as a garden so the spirit could enjoy itself as it wandered.

The latest example of this practice was found at the bottom of 13,700 to 11,700 year-old graves at a scenic prehistoric burial spot known as Raqefet Cave overlooking the Mediterranean coast.

Professor Dani Nadel and his team used radiocarbon dating on the lining of tombs containing 29 skeletons, of children and adults, with four containing large plant impressions identified as the stems of sage, mint and figwort.

"Flowering plants possess mechanisms that stimulate positive emotional and social responses in humans," Professor Nadel, an archaeologist at Haifa University in Israel says.

"It's difficult to establish when people started to use flowers in public and ceremonial events because of the scarcity of relevant evidence in the archaeological record.

"We report on uniquely preserved 13,700-11,700-year-old grave linings made of flowers suggesting such use began much earlier than previously thought."

Part of plants cells called phytoliths from grasses, leaves, reeds and sedges were identified all over the cave and on its terrace.

Crafted and natural stone objects, perhaps as markers or symbols, as well as a prevalence of flints and butchered animal bones suggesting celebratory feasts.

"Some of the plant species attest to spring burials with a strong emphasis on colorful and aromatic flowers," Nadel said.

"Cave floor chiseling to accommodate the desired grave location and depth is also evident at the site. Thus, grave preparation was a sophisticated planned process, embedded with social and spiritual meanings reflecting a complex pre-agricultural society undergoing profound changes at the end of the Pleistocene."

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