Archaeologists Discover 12,000-Year-Old ‘Shaman’ Burial, Offers Insight on Ancient Funeral Rituals

Jul 08, 2016 06:10 AM EDT

Archaeologists have discovered a 12,000-year-old shaman grave in Israel, which offers some clue on the mysterious funeral rituals of ancient times.

Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Connecticut have discovered the ancient grave in Hilazon Tachtit Cave in northern Israel, which was found to be one of the rarest cemeteries during the Natufian era.

According to the researchers, the evidence they found provides insight about ancient communities' engagement in ritual practice.

The woman, who was believed to be a shaman, had been buried together with some bizarre elements including 86 tortoise shells, an eagle's wing, and the pelvic bone of a leopard. Other mysterious items were found, including sea shells, a wild boar's forearm and a human foot, reports.

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In their study, which was published in Current Anthropology, the researchers said that the woman's grave was well-preserved, and the condition allowed them to clearly identify the multiple stages involved in the funeral ritual during the Natufian era.

"The discovery is exciting because it comes from an ancient period when evidence for human ritual practice is beginning to grow," Natalie Munro from University of Connecticut and co-author of the study told the IBTimes UK.

"People have just started to settle down into villages and bury their dead on-site. Before the late Natufian era, burials are much less common in the archaeological record," she added.

The remains of the woman, who was described to be petite, old and disabled, was one of the 28 other individuals buried at the Hilzon Tachtit Cave. According to Munro, the way the grave was made suggests great care was taken to arrange the funeral rites. Moreover, this is believed to be the earliest shaman burials in archaeological record.

"The significant pre-planning implies that there was a defined 'to do' list, and a working plan of ritual actions and their order," Leore Grosman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told

According to the researchers, the discovery demonstrated the importance of funeral rituals to people during this time period.

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