Humans feasted to celebrate burials of their dead 12,000 years ago

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Washington, Aug 31 (ANI): Remains of an ancient Israeli burial site has offered new evidence that nearly 12,000 years ago, feasts were used to celebrate burial of the dead, bringing about the world's first established communities, says a University of Connecticut (UConn) anthropologist.

UConn Associate Professor of Anthropology Natalie Munro and a team of scientists found clear evidence of feasting at the ancient Hilazon Tachtit Cave burial site near Karmiel, Israel.

Unusually high densities of butchered tortoise and wild cattle led them to conclude that the Natufian community members who lived in the area at the time gathered at the site for "special rituals to commemorate the burial of the dead, and that feasts were central elements."

Some 14,500 to 11,500 years before the present, the Natufian people occupied the area around Karmiel, near the Mediterranean Sea.

They lived there during the region's pre-Neolithic period, which marked the end of the very long Stone Age period.

"Feasting (...) is one of humanity's most universal and unique social behaviours," said the researchers.

"Our paper documents the first good evidence for feasting in the archaeological record that we know of," said Munro.

She said that although many researchers believe feasting likely began with the emergence of modern humans, compelling supporting proofs have not been found.

Detection of feasting nearly 12,000 years ago may signal important culture changes.

The Natufian people were the first to settle into more or less permanent communities and the act of settling would have been a time of social and economic upheaval.

Prior to this, populations were more mobile and could separate into smaller groups for food and other resources to deal with disputes. But, settling down probably strained social relationships.

The researchers theorize that feasts may have played a significant role in easing the potentially rocky transition from a hunting-gathering lifestyle to one of agricultural dependency.

"Sedentary communities require other means to resolve conflict, smooth tensions and provide a sense of community. We believe that feasts, especially in funerary contexts, served to integrate communities by providing this sense of community," said Munro.

Funerals may have provided special opportunities to bring communities together to mark the last event in a person's life and send the deceased off to another life.

The study has been published in the latest online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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