Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ancient Funeral Feast found in Northern Israel

I hate to use the word "cool" when beginning a post about a funeral feast, but I can't help it- I find this story so cool!!! (I'm just weird that way, so shoot me)

Archaeologists from the University of Connecticut and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem were so excited to unearth what they thought was a Paleolithic era campsite. I imagine their excitement turned into an all-out happy dance when they realized that it wasn't just a short-term campsite, but instead a place where a group of early humans stopped to hold a burial feast for a beloved member of their group.

In one area of the site, the archaeologists found several cooking stations. The reason they call them "cooking" stations as opposed to "ritualistic sacrifice" stations is because the evidence shows that the animal bones had been butchered, cooked and gnawed upon as opposed to the typical way animal bones look after sacrificial rites. Enough animal bones and large tortoise shells were found to make the scientists think that the group was a large one, likely several dozen people.

In the central area of the site, three bodies were discovered. Two of them, a young woman and the unborn baby she was carrying, showed typical burial traditions of the region. The third skeleton was most likely a tribal elder. Her body was buried with obvious care. A leopard, an eagle and a stone marten were buried with her. Each of these animals were important to early humans in the area and the fact that one of each was buried with her show how highly ranked she was to the tribe. Her bones show her to be about 45 at her death. This was considered elderly for that time period (I have a very hard time writing "elderly" and "45" together because I'm staring down the barrel of 40). She also had a congenital hip defect that probably made her walk with a painful limp her entire life.

What makes this site extremely significant to archaeologists and historians is the fact that it is the oldest of its kind found thus far. There have been many such sites from the much-later Neolithic time period. While the Neolithic sites have been extremely helpful in telling us about these early humans, hopefully we will learn even more from this Paleolithic site.

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