London, Aug 24 (IANS) Much like church bells, our ancestors used giant boulder mortars whose pounding sound informed the community that a burial ceremony was being held, new research reveals.
The Natufian culture, which flourished 15,000 years ago, is well known for its complex burial customs. The period belongs to sedentary hunter-gatherers living in the Levant region (modern Palestine, Israel, Syria and Jordan).
They decorated graves with flowers and held ceremonial meals before their funerals.
Now, a new study from University of Haifa in Israel shows that Natufians also created massive mortars that were used to pound food at their burial ceremonies.
The pounding sound of these large mortars informed the members of the community that a ceremony was underway.
“Their communal burial and commemorative ceremonies played an important role in enhancing the sense of affiliation and cohesion among the members of the community,” explained Dr Danny Rosenberg and professor Dani Nadel from the Zinman Institute of archaeology at University of Haifa in a statement.
The Natufians were among the first humans to abandon the nomadic lifestyle and settle in permanent communities, including the construction of buildings with stone foundations.
It is even possible that they engaged in initial forms of cultivation.
They were also among the first human cultures that established cemeteries — defined areas in wish burial took place over generations, in contrast to the random burial seen in more ancient cultures.
Researchers have recently found evidence of large banquets held by the Natufians during funerals and commemorative ceremonies.
Dr Rosenberg and professor Nadel were fascinated by boulders, some of which are almost a metre high and weight 100 kg.
“These are the largest stone artifacts found during this period in the Middle East. Indeed, they are much larger than most of the stone objects that were hewn here in much later periods,” Dr Rosenberg explained.
These boulders have been found at Natufian sites in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.
“We were fascinated by the settings in which the boulders were found and their association to burial ceremonies,” the researchers noted.
The pounding also served to inform the members of adjacent communities that an important ceremony was taking place.