A well-preserved finding in burial cave from the Natufian of the era 12,000 years ago sheds light on the complex rites and rituals of the prehistory. The bones of a shaman woman who was lying in her burial site, surrounded by 86 tortoise shells, an eagle’s wing, a leopard’s pelvic bone, a complete deer, a tailbone from a cow, and a myriad of other bones and objects, at the Hilazon Cave. The prehistoric grave was in the Galilee area of northern Israel. The clan was living in a hunter-gatherer society, where much more has been discovered buried with the female shaman.
The unique features of the woman’s interment have shed new light on all of human society during the late Natufian era 10,800-9,500 BCE, and on how the ancients treated their rites and rituals according to the archaeological team led Prof. Natalie Munro of Connecticut University and Prof. Leore Grosman of Hebrew University. The revelations have allowed the team to speculative women’s ceremonies. As for the shaman herself in reaching the age of 45, she would have been considered an elder and shaman leader, for people of that era.
She was short, and also suffered from some diseases. Recovery of the well-preserved grave of this woman, and the generally high quality of preservation in the cave unearthed at this Galilee site in the Lower Hilazon River, enable identification of the multiple stages of living. They constitute evidence of a number of activities related to ritual performances, as well as leading to broader generalizations about Natufian practices during a dynamic era preceding the transition to agricultural society.
At least 28 people were in the cave found at Hilazon Tachtit. Next to the remains of a female shaman unearthed there were a number of different animal bones, tools and shells. Its people are believed to be among the first humans to abandon foraging and to settle in permanent locations. They continued to hunt for meat and gather fruit – but they also began to produce food, and even to bake bread, evidence of which includes giant grinding stones used to make flour from barley.
When was it exactly when woman’s culture transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming is debated – as is the possibility that she went back and forth in leadership and rites and rituals between those two cultural eras. Of the many burial sites found from the Natufian period in general and in this cave in particular, that of the shaman seems to be the most intriguing. It is also the oldest – apparently, prehistoric clan that arose around her thus far, the archaeologists say. They spent no less than three years meticulously digging her grave alone, reaching a depth of just 50 centimeters – and making those extraordinary finds. Just as remarkable, the quality of the preservation of the remains at the site has enabled them to identify multiple stages:
Shaman’s Ritual practices under woman’s leadership plays a crucial social roles in human societies. Grosman and Munro wrote in their paper, “A Natufian Ritual Event,” published in the journal Current Anthropology says its incredibly rare for the archaeological record to be detailed enough for scientists to be able identify individual ritualistic activities, they add. The elaborate rituals revealed by the excavation at Hilazon Tachtit were unexpected by university people in primitive culture.”
But for shaman women today, the rarest few, who fully understand this already of their own pre-pagan past, we reveal no new findings. One of the 86 tortoise shells found in the burial shows how close she was to nature and probably a leader and chief of the tribe long before anyone ever heard of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The first stage involved digging a symmetrical oval hole in the cave. The hole was then walled with mud plaster and stone slabs. The second stage involved laying down large stones, between which the inhabitants placed tortoise shells, seashells, blocks of ochre, the body of a deer, and a broken basalt bowl that had probably been in use, but was broken for the purposes of the burial. In the third stage, they filled the site with bones of animals that had already been consumed, and processed flint tools for their burial.
In the fourth phase, the woman’s body was buried with more animal bones or parts of them – including the leopard’s pelvis. The pig’s leg was placed next to the woman’s right hand with two skulls of martens (small predator like ferrets), the cow’s tailbone and the human foot – from a person who had been much bigger than the shaman herself. The fifth stage was characterized by the addition of more deer bones and tortoise shells to the grave. Grosman thinks the large number of bones from young deer demonstrate that the burial took place in the spring.
Finally, a large triangular rock was laid over the grave – and that was that. “A vast effort was made to bring materials to the grave.
Source: Phoenix of Elder Mountain, haaretz.com, “The Awakening” by Darby Lahger, “In a Cave” by Yuri Yeryomin, and imj.org.il,