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Earliest known use of flowers in funerals reported in Israel

The earliest known use of flowers in funerals as a ceremonial indication of bereavement for the dead was reported in Israel by an international team of archaeologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, and biologists from Germany, France, and Israel in the July 1, 2013, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A view of flowers being delivered before the funeral for actor James Gandolfini.
A view of flowers being delivered before the funeral for actor James Gandolfini.
Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images
Funeral with flowers on marble
Copyleft This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

The plant impressions found at the bottom of graves in Raqefet Cave in Israel date to between 13,700 and 11,700 years ago and suggests that people may have begun using flowers as symbols of ceremonial bereavement in funerals and other rites much earlier than ever before documented.

Four new graves in the Raqefet Cave site were found that contained impressions of sage, mint, and figwort.

The Raqefet Cave site is a chronicle of burial practices going as far back as 120,000 years ago.

The use of flowers as the bedding for a grave was a relatively modern convention that may have accompanied the practice of returning to the grave periodically before the deceased person was finally buried by family members or other relations.

The authors presume that the use of flowers and herbs was a sign of bereavement, a possible means of preservation of the deceased, and a means of preventing an open grave from being intruded upon by animals.


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