Washington, September 6 : Archaeologists have found prehistoric graves with an unusual abundance of phallic figurines and oddly arranged human remains in Israel, which date back to the Stone Age.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the findings were made nar Nazerat (Nazareth), called Kfar HaHoresh, which dates to between 8,500 and 6,750 B.C.
The site was uninhabited and probably served surrounding villages as a centralized burial and cult center, said excavation leader Nigel Goring-Morris of Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.
Archaeologists have primarily found female symbolic figurines in other burials of this time period.
"At Kfar HaHoresh, all the gender-oriented symbolism seems to be male," Goring-Morris said. "Researchers in the past have put more emphasis on the 'mother goddess' of agriculture," he added.
At least 65 individuals, mostly young males between the ages of 20 and 30, were found buried in plaster-surfaced structures. The largest measures 33 feet (10 meters) by at least 66 feet (20 meters).
Many of the bodies' skulls were removed postmortem, and their facial features were reconstructed with lime plaster.
"This is not a regular site. There are many burials and many of them are very unusual," said Avi Gopher, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University.
"Generally, we did not have central cemeteries during this period. But, there may well be places where the emphasis on burial was greater," he added.
The period between 8,500 and 6,750 B.C. was characterized by a transition from hunting and gathering to large, village-based agricultural communities that domesticated crops and livestock.
The people of Kfar HaHoresh were also dealing with fundamental societal change, according to archaeologists.
One young male was found buried atop the remains of seven wild cattle.
It is likely among the first evidence of burial feasts, excavation leader Goring-Morris believes. Other people were buried with fox jaws.
"You have the first large-scale village communities with the beginnings of all the attendant problems we know today, such as land ownership and transfer of rights from one generation to the next," he said.
"An intensification of ceremonial practices would probably serve to alleviate some of the stresses and tensions within the society," he added.
Also, the shift in men's role from hunters to more settled herders and farmers may have reduced their status and self-image, according to Goring-Morris.
This may have led the prehistoric people to bury young male adults at Kfar HaHoresh with animals as a way of honoring their past lives as hunters.
Some of the children buried at Kfar HaHoresh also received at least some of the same funerary treatments as adults, such as being buried with grave goods including pendants and fox jaws.
"As agriculture progressed and developed, symbolism developed in parallel," said Gopher.