Traces of the oldest cremation found in Israel

(ORDO NEWS) — In the north of Israel, archaeologists have discovered the oldest cremation pit, in which the inhabitants of the Middle East during the Neolithic period burned the body of one of their deceased tribesmen. The description of the study was published by the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The operator of the Arizona crematorium received a dose of radiation by burning the bodies of cancer patients. Radioactive isotopes were found in his urine, as well as on the equipment of the crematorium. The man himself simply did not bother to warn that another “client” could pose a threat to his health

“We found the grave of a young man or girl. The deceased a few months before his death survived a blow with a spear or an arrow hit. The set of bones and their location suggests that they did not fall into this pit by accident, they were there as a result of the fact that the body of the deceased was it was laid in a special way and burnt at its bottom,” said Fanny Bocquentin, an archaeologist at the University of Paris (France) and one of the authors of the study.

Scientists believe that people’s ideas about the other world originated long before the appearance of the first civilizations. In particular, excavations of the last half of the century show that already 20-30 thousand years ago the Cro-Magnons – the direct predecessors of modern people – had complex funeral rites.

They decorated the bodies and graves of the deceased with flowers, patterns made of stones and other things, believing that they could be useful to the deceased tribesman in the afterlife. Archaeologists have found similar burials in caves where Neanderthals lived, so anthropologists argue about what role such traditions could play in the emergence of civilization.

While studying the settlement of Ain Mallah, the site of the ancient inhabitants of the Middle East, which was located in the north of Israel, Bokentin and her colleagues discovered the oldest example of cremation of deceased tribesmen. On the territory of the site, as archaeologists assume, there lived representatives of the so-called Natufian culture, who had already moved to a sedentary life, but continued to get food by hunting and gathering.

These people had very complex and varied funeral rites that have long attracted the attention of culturologists, historians and anthropologists who study the transition period that preceded the birth of the first agricultural civilizations in the Middle East. French archaeologists have been excavating the site since the middle of the last century.

The history of the origin of civilization

While re-excavating Ain Malachh in 2016, Boletin and her team stumbled upon a type of burial that they had never encountered before. Archaeologists have found more than 300 human bones, which were in a deep hole with burnt clay walls. In addition, scientists found traces of ash in the pit, as well as the remains of stalks of wheat, reeds and other burnt plants.

Having studied the structure of the bones and measured their age, archaeologists came to the conclusion that they are dealing with the oldest example of the cremation of the body of the deceased to date. This man died in about 7031 BC. This is supported by the fact that all the bones were burned, and they were not scattered in the pit in a random order. This indicates that ancient people controlled the process of burning the body and kept the fire at a certain constant level.

All these remains, as the researchers found, belonged to the same person. A broken tip of a stone arrow or spear was stuck in his left shoulder blade. As scientists assume, the cremated young man or girl did not die from this wound, since its edges managed to heal, despite the presence of a stone fragment in the scapula.

In addition to the remains of a young man or girl, scientists have found in the pit dozens of bones of cattle, goats, pigs and some other animals, the origin of which has not yet been established. Bouquetin and her colleagues do not exclude that these finds could be part of a burial ritual. But at the same time, scientists are inclined towards the fact that they were simply in the soil even before the preparation of the cremation pit.

In addition to the body of a boy or girl, archaeologists found traces of five more cremations, which occurred a little later or in the same historical era. Scientists believe that the inhabitants of An Malakh at that time experienced a series of serious cultural changes associated with the transition from the Natufian culture to the culture of the pre-ceramic Neolithic, whose carriers were already farmers and cattle breeders.

Further study of this settlement, scientists hope, will help them understand what caused the ancient inhabitants of the Middle East to drastically change their burial traditions and move from burying the dead in their own homes and other bizarre rituals of the Natufian era, traces of which were found in more ancient layers of sediments in An Malakh and other ancient “megacities” of the Middle East, to the cremation of bodies.



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