Publications by authors named "Lior Weissbrod"

17 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

The rise and fall of viticulture in the Late Antique Negev Highlands reconstructed from archaeobotanical and ceramic data.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2020 08 27;117(33):19780-19791. Epub 2020 Jul 27.

The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University, 52900 Ramat Gan, Israel;

The international scope of the Mediterranean wine trade in Late Antiquity raises important questions concerning sustainability in an ancient international economy and offers a valuable historical precedent to modern globalization. Such questions involve the role of intercontinental commerce in maintaining sustainable production within important supply regions and the vulnerability of peripheral regions believed to have been especially sensitive to environmental and political disturbances. We provide archaeobotanical evidence from trash mounds at three sites in the central Negev Desert, Israel, unraveling the rise and fall of viticulture over the second to eighth centuries of the common era (CE). Using quantitative ceramic data obtained in the same archaeological contexts, we further investigate connections between Negev viticulture and circum-Mediterranean trade. Our findings demonstrate interrelated growth in viticulture and involvement in Mediterranean trade reaching what appears to be a commercial scale in the fourth to mid-sixth centuries. Following a mid-sixth century peak, decline of this system is evident in the mid- to late sixth century, nearly a century before the Islamic conquest. These findings closely correspond with other archaeological evidence for social, economic, and urban growth in the fourth century and decline centered on the mid-sixth century. Contracting markets were a likely proximate cause for the decline; possible triggers include climate change, plague, and wider sociopolitical developments. In long-term historical perspective, the unprecedented commercial florescence of the Late Antique Negev appears to have been unsustainable, reverting to an age-old pattern of smaller-scale settlement and survival-subsistence strategies within a time frame of about two centuries.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1922200117DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7443973PMC
August 2020

Early modern human dispersal into southwest Asia occurred in variable climates: a reply to Frumkin and Comay (2019).

J Hum Evol 2020 Jun 21:102833. Epub 2020 Jun 21.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 3498838, Israel.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102833DOI Listing
June 2020

Climate variability in early expansions of Homo sapiens in light of the new record of micromammals in Misliya Cave, Israel.

J Hum Evol 2020 02 13;139:102741. Epub 2020 Feb 13.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 3498838, Israel.

In this study, we provide the first taphonomic and taxonomic descriptions of the micromammals from Misliya Cave, where recently a Homo sapiens hemimaxilla has been reported. This finding significantly extends the time frame for the out-of-Africa presence of anatomically modern humans. It also provides an opportunity to reassess variation in early modern human population responses to climate change in the Levantine sequence. Information on species ranking and diversity estimations (Shannon functions) is obtained from quantitative data across 31 Levantine assemblages and investigated in a broad comparative frame using multivariate analyses. Recent models of human-climate interactions in the late Early-Middle Paleolithic of the southern Levant have drawn heavily on on-site associations of human fossils with remains of micromammals. However, there has been little, if any, attempt to examine the long-term picture of how paleocommunities of micromammals responded qualitatively and quantitatively to climatic oscillations of the region by altering their compositional complexity. Consequently, our understanding is vastly limited in regard to the paleoecosystem functions that linked past precipitation shifts to changes in primary producers and consumers or as to the background climatic conditions that allowed for the development of highly nonanalog ancient communities in the region. Although previous studies argued for a correspondence between alternations in H. sapiens and Neanderthal occupations of the Levant and faunal shifts in key biostratigraphic indicator taxa (such as Euro-Siberian Ellobius versus Saharo-Arabian Mastomys and Arvicanthis), our data indicate the likelihood that early H. sapiens populations (Misliya and Qafzeh hominins) persisted through high amplitudes of paleoecological and climatic oscillations. It is unlikely, given these results, that climate functioned as a significant filter of early modern human persistence and genetic interactions with Neanderthals in the Levant.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102741DOI Listing
February 2020

Climate stability and societal decline on the margins of the Byzantine empire in the Negev Desert.

Sci Rep 2020 01 30;10(1):1512. Epub 2020 Jan 30.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, 199 Aba-Hushi Avenue, Haifa, 3498838, Israel.

Understanding past human settlement of inhospitable regions is one of the most intriguing puzzles in archaeological research, with implications for more sustainable use of marginal regions today. During the Byzantine period in the 4 century CE, large settlements were established in the arid region of the Negev Desert, Israel, but it remains unclear why it did so, and why the settlements were abandoned three centuries later. Previous theories proposed that the Negev was a "green desert" in the early 1 millennium CE, and that the Byzantine Empire withdrew from this region due to a dramatic climatic downturn. In the absence of a local climate archive correlated to the Byzantine/Early Islamic transition, testing this theory has proven challenging. We use stable isotopic indicators of animal dietary and mobility patterns to assess the extent of the vegetative cover in the desert. By doing so, we aim to detect possible climatic fluctuations that may have led to the abandonment of the Byzantine settlements. The findings show that the Negev Desert was not greener during the time period under investigation than it is today and that the composition of the animals' diets, as well as their grazing mobility patterns, remained unchanged through the Byzantine/Early Islamic transition. Favoring a non-climatic explanation, we propose instead that the abandonment of the Negev Byzantine settlements was motivated by restructuring of the Empire's territorial priorities.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-58360-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6992700PMC
January 2020

Predictive modelling in paleoenvironmental reconstruction: The micromammals of Manot Cave, Israel.

J Hum Evol 2019 Oct 14:102652. Epub 2019 Oct 14.

School of Zoology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, zip code 6997801, Israel. Electronic address:

This paper describes the micromammalian remains and paleoenvironment of the Upper Paleolithic sequence of Manot Cave (46-34 ka), southern Levant. Micromammal remains were identified from Ahmarian (46-42 ka), Levantine Aurignacian (38-34 ka) and post-Levantine Aurignacian (34-33 ka) layers. To identify taphonomic agents, molar digestion was modelled for seven local raptor species, and model predictions were compared with observed digestion scores in the Manot Cave material. Raptor species differed significantly in molar digestion patterns, allowing us to identify Tyto alba as the bone accumulator in the Ahmarian and Post-Levantine Aurignacian units. Data were insufficient for species-level identification of the taphonomic agent in the Levantine Aurignacian. Günther's voles (Microtus guentheri) were dominant, though woodland species (Apodemus spp., Sciurus anomalus and Dryomys nitedula) also occurred through the entire sequence. Manot Cave furnished the first fossil record of the Eurasian snow vole (Chionomys nivalis) in the southern Levant during the Late Pleistocene and its first secure record of the water vole (Arvicola terrestris) outside the Hula Valley. Records of other taxa (Acomys dimidiatus and D. nitedula) provide the earliest occurrence datum in the region. Using counts of both identified specimens and distinct elements (lower first molars) we modelled paleoenvironmental conditions through both Weighted Averaging Partial Least Squares regression and a qualitative analysis considering niche preferences of species. Model predictions indicate the unexpectedly pronounced dominance of open habitats compared to present conditions near the cave, though the occurrence and abundance of woodland species also indicate some woodland expansion relative to the preceding Middle Paleolithic period. Combining statistical models and species niche considerations we show that the time span between the Ahmarian, Levantine Aurignacian and post-Levantine Aurignacian was marked by a clear-cut climatic oscillation to cooler and likely wetter conditions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2019.102652DOI Listing
October 2019

Zooarchaeology of the social and economic upheavals in the Late Antique-Early Islamic sequence of the Negev Desert.

Sci Rep 2019 04 30;9(1):6702. Epub 2019 Apr 30.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel.

The Byzantine - Islamic transition (7-8 centuries CE) in the desert-edge Palaestina Tertia is examined using faunal remains recovered from archaeological sites in the Negev. Archaeozoological analyses suggest sharp differences between Late Byzantine and Early Islamic animal economies, especially in herding patterns and the exploitation of wildlife resources. These differences are suggested to reflect both cultural and land ownership changes following the Arab conquest, against the backdrop of climatic change. The archaeozoological record thereby provides independent evidence to the rise and fall of societal complexity in this marginal region.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-43169-8DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6491595PMC
April 2019

Ancient trash mounds unravel urban collapse a century before the end of Byzantine hegemony in the southern Levant.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2019 04 25;116(17):8239-8248. Epub 2019 Mar 25.

Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Radiocarbon Laboratory, Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100 Rehovot, Israel.

The historic event of the Late Antique Little Ice Age (LALIA) was recently identified in dozens of natural and geological climate proxies of the northern hemisphere. Although this climatic downturn was proposed as a major cause for pandemic and extensive societal upheavals in the sixth-seventh centuries CE, archaeological evidence for the magnitude of societal response to this event is sparse. This study uses ancient trash mounds as a type of proxy for identifying societal crisis in the urban domain, and employs multidisciplinary investigations to establish the terminal date of organized trash collection and high-level municipal functioning on a city-wide scale. Survey, excavation, sediment analysis, and geographic information system assessment of mound volume were conducted on a series of mounds surrounding the Byzantine urban settlement of Elusa in the Negev Desert. These reveal the massive collection and dumping of domestic and construction waste over time on the city edges. Carbon dating of charred seeds and charcoal fragments combined with ceramic analysis establish the end date of orchestrated trash removal near the mid-sixth century, coinciding closely with the beginning of the LALIA event and outbreak of the Justinian Plague in the year 541. This evidence for societal decline during the sixth century ties with other arguments for urban dysfunction across the Byzantine Levant at this time. We demonstrate the utility of trash mounds as sensitive proxies of social response and unravel the time-space dynamics of urban collapse, suggesting diminished resilience to rapid climate change in the frontier Negev region of the empire.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1900233116DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6486770PMC
April 2019

A glimpse of an ancient agricultural ecosystem based on remains of micromammals in the Byzantine Negev Desert.

R Soc Open Sci 2018 Jan 10;5(1):171528. Epub 2018 Jan 10.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel 3498838, Israel.

It is widely believed that Byzantine agriculture in the Negev Desert (fourth to seventh century Common Era; CE), with widespread construction of terraces and dams, altered local landscapes. However, no direct evidence in archaeological sites yet exists to test this assumption. We uncovered large amounts of small mammalian remains (rodents and insectivores) within agricultural installations built near fields, providing a new line of evidence for reconstructing anthropogenic impact on local habitats. Abandonment layers furnished high abundances of remains, whereas much smaller numbers were retrieved from the period of human use of the structures. Digestion marks are present in low frequencies (20% of long bones and teeth), with a light degree of impact, which indicate the role of owls (e.g. ) as the principal means of accumulation. The most common taxa-gerbils ( spp.) and jirds ( spp.)-occur in nearly equal frequencies, which do not correspond with any modern Negev communities, where gerbils predominate in sandy low-precipitation environments and jirds in loessial, higher-precipitation ones. Although low-level climate change cannot be ruled out, the results suggest that Byzantine agriculture allowed jirds to colonize sandy anthropogenic habitats with other gerbilids and commensal mice and rats.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.171528DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5792933PMC
January 2018

The earliest modern humans outside Africa.

Science 2018 Jan;359(6374):456-459

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Mount Carmel 3498838, Israel.

To date, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa are dated to around 90,000 to 120,000 years ago at the Levantine sites of Skhul and Qafzeh. A maxilla and associated dentition recently discovered at Misliya Cave, Israel, was dated to 177,000 to 194,000 years ago, suggesting that members of the clade left Africa earlier than previously thought. This finding changes our view on modern human dispersal and is consistent with recent genetic studies, which have posited the possibility of an earlier dispersal of around 220,000 years ago. The Misliya maxilla is associated with full-fledged Levallois technology in the Levant, suggesting that the emergence of this technology is linked to the appearance of in the region, as has been documented in Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aap8369DOI Listing
January 2018

The earliest evidence for Upper Paleolithic occupation in the Armenian Highlands at Aghitu-3 Cave.

J Hum Evol 2017 09 7;110:37-68. Epub 2017 Jul 7.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 31905, Israel.

With its well-preserved archaeological and environmental records, Aghitu-3 Cave permits us to examine the settlement patterns of the Upper Paleolithic (UP) people who inhabited the Armenian Highlands. We also test whether settlement of the region between ∼39-24,000 cal BP relates to environmental variability. The earliest evidence occurs in archaeological horizon (AH) VII from ∼39-36,000 cal BP during a mild, moist climatic phase. AH VI shows periodic occupation as warm, humid conditions prevailed from ∼36-32,000 cal BP. As the climate becomes cooler and drier at ∼32-29,000 cal BP (AH V-IV), evidence for occupation is minimal. However, as cooling continues, the deposits of AH III demonstrate that people used the site more intensively from ∼29-24,000 cal BP, leaving behind numerous stone artifacts, faunal remains, and complex combustion features. Despite the climatic fluctuations seen across this 15,000-year sequence, lithic technology remains attuned to one pattern: unidirectional reduction of small cores geared towards the production of bladelets for tool manufacture. Subsistence patterns also remain stable, focused on medium-sized prey such as ovids and caprids, as well as equids. AH III demonstrates an expansion of social networks to the northwest and southwest, as the transport distance of obsidian used to make stone artifacts increases. We also observe the addition of bone tools, including an eyed needle, and shell beads brought from the east, suggesting that these people manufactured complex clothing and wore ornaments. Remains of micromammals, birds, charcoal, pollen, and tephra relate the story of environmental variability. We hypothesize that UP behavior was linked to shifts in demographic pressures and climatic changes. Thus, by combining archaeological and environmental data, we gain a clearer picture about the first UP inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.05.010DOI Listing
September 2017

Reply to Dekel et al.: Preagricultural commensal niches for the house mouse and origins of human sedentism.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017 07 13;114(27):E5281-E5282. Epub 2017 Jun 13.

CNRS, UMR 7209 Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et Environnements, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 75005 Paris, France;

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1706914114DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5502652PMC
July 2017

Origins of house mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15,000 y ago.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017 04 27;114(16):4099-4104. Epub 2017 Mar 27.

Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, CNRS-UMR 7209, Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et Environnements, 75005 Paris, France;

Reductions in hunter-gatherer mobility during the Late Pleistocene influenced settlement ecologies, altered human relations with animal communities, and played a pivotal role in domestication. The influence of variability in human mobility on selection dynamics and ecological interactions in human settlements has not been extensively explored, however. This study of mice in modern African villages and changing mice molar shapes in a 200,000-y-long sequence from the Levant demonstrates competitive advantages for commensal mice in long-term settlements. Mice from African pastoral households provide a referential model for habitat partitioning among mice taxa in settlements of varying durations. The data reveal the earliest known commensal niche for house mice in long-term forager settlements 15,000 y ago. Competitive dynamics and the presence and abundance of mice continued to fluctuate with human mobility through the terminal Pleistocene. At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha, house mice displaced less commensal wild mice during periods of heavy occupational pressure but were outcompeted when mobility increased. Changing food webs and ecological dynamics in long-term settlements allowed house mice to establish durable commensal populations that expanded with human societies. This study demonstrates the changing magnitude of cultural niche construction with varying human mobility and the extent of environmental influence before the advent of farming.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619137114DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5402403PMC
April 2017

Satsurblia: new insights of human response and survival across the Last Glacial Maximum in the southern Caucasus.

PLoS One 2014 29;9(10):e111271. Epub 2014 Oct 29.

Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.

The region of western Georgia (Imereti) has been a major geographic corridor for human migrations during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic (MP/UP). Knowledge of the MP and UP in this region, however, stems mostly from a small number of recent excavations at the sites of Ortvale Klde, Dzudzuana, Bondi, and Kotias Klde. These provide an absolute chronology for the Late MP and MP-UP transition, but only a partial perspective on the nature and timing of UP occupations, and limited data on how human groups in this region responded to the harsh climatic oscillations between 37,000-11,500 years before present. Here we report new UP archaeological sequences from fieldwork in Satsurblia cavein the same region. A series of living surfaces with combustion features, faunal remains, stone and bone tools, and ornaments provide new information about human occupations in this region (a) prior to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) at 25.5-24.4 ka cal. BP and (b) after the LGM at 17.9-16.2 ka cal. BP. The latter provides new evidence in the southern Caucasus for human occupation immediately after the LGM. The results of the campaigns in Satsurblia and Dzudzuana suggest that at present the most plausible scenario is one of a hiatus in the occupation of this region during the LGM (between 24.4-17.9 ka cal. BP). Analysis of the living surfaces at Satsurblia offers information about human activities such as the production and utilisation of lithics and bone tools, butchering, cooking and consumption of meat and wild cereals, the utilisation of fibers, and the use of certain woods. Microfaunal and palynological analyses point to fluctuations in the climate with consequent shifts in vegetation and the faunal spectrum not only before and after the LGM, but also during the two millennia following the end of the LGM.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111271PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213019PMC
June 2015

Ancient urban ecology reconstructed from archaeozoological remains of small mammals in the Near East.

PLoS One 2014 12;9(3):e91795. Epub 2014 Mar 12.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel.

Modern rapidly expanding cities generate intricate patterns of species diversity owing to immense complexity in urban spatial structure and current growth trajectories. We propose to identify and uncouple the drivers that give rise to these patterns by looking at the effect of urbanism on species diversity over a previously unexplored long temporal frame that covers early developments in urbanism. To provide this historical perspective we analyzed archaeozoological remains of small mammals from ancient urban and rural sites in the Near East from the 2nd to the 1st millennium BCE, and compared them to observations from modern urban areas. Our data show that ancient urban assemblages consistently comprised two main taxa (Mus musculus domesticus and Crocidura sp.), whereas assemblages of contemporaneous rural sites were significantly richer. Low species diversity also characterizes high-density core areas of modern cities, suggesting that similar ecological drivers have continued to operate in urban areas despite the vast growth in their size and population densities, as well as in the complexity of their technologies and social organization. Research in urban ecology has tended to emphasize the relatively high species diversity observed in low-density areas located on the outskirts of cities, where open and vegetated patches are abundant. The fact that over several millennia urban evolution did not significantly alter species diversity suggests that low diversity is an attribute of densely-populated settlements. The possibility that high diversity in peripheral urban areas arose only recently as a short-term phenomenon in urban ecology merits further research based on long-term data.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0091795PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951428PMC
May 2015

Cats in recent Chinese study on cat domestication are commensal, not domesticated.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2014 Mar 21;111(10):E876. Epub 2014 Feb 21.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1324177111DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956164PMC
March 2014

A series of Mousterian occupations in a new type of site: the Nesher Ramla karst depression, Israel.

J Hum Evol 2014 Jan 7;66:1-17. Epub 2013 Nov 7.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Mount Carmel 31905, Israel.

We report the discovery of a new type of hominin site in the Levant, inhabited during MIS 6-5. The site, found within a karst depression at Nesher Ramla, Israel, provides novel evidence for Middle Paleolithic lifeways in an environmental and depositional setting that is previously undocumented in the southern Levant. The carbonate bedrock in the area is characterized by surface depressions formed by gravitational sagging of the rock into underlying karst voids. In one such depression, an 8 m thick sequence comprising rich and well-preserved lithic and faunal assemblages, combustion features, hundreds of manuports and ochre was discovered. Here we focus on the geological and environmental setting and present optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages for the 8 m sequence, aiming to place the site within a firm chronological framework and determine its significance for a more complete reconstruction of cultural developments in the Levantine Middle Paleolithic. To that end, preliminary results of the lithic and faunal studies are also presented.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.06.005DOI Listing
January 2014

Earliest floral grave lining from 13,700-11,700-y-old Natufian burials at Raqefet Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2013 Jul 1;110(29):11774-8. Epub 2013 Jul 1.

The Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, 91905 Israel.

Flowering plants possess mechanisms that stimulate positive emotional and social responses in humans. It is 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-y-old grave linings made of flowers, suggesting that such use began much earlier than previously thought. The only potentially older instance is the questionable use of flowers in the Shanidar IV Neanderthal grave. The earliest cemeteries (ca. 15,000-11,500 y ago) in the Levant are known from Natufian sites in northern Israel, where dozens of burials reflect a wide range of inhumation practices. The newly discovered flower linings were found in four Natufian graves at the burial site of Raqefet Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel. Large identified plant impressions in the graves include stems of sage and other Lamiaceae (Labiatae; mint family) or Scrophulariaceae (figwort family) species; accompanied by a plethora of phytoliths, they provide the earliest direct evidence now known for such preparation and decoration of graves. Some of the plant species attest to spring burials with a strong emphasis on colorful and aromatic flowers. 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 preagricultural society undergoing profound changes at the end of the Pleistocene.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1302277110DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3718103PMC
July 2013