Mysterious burial: Archaeologists unravel ancient 'shaman' funeral

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Eighty-six tortoise shells, an eagle’s wing, and the pelvis of a leopard are some of the bizarre objects placed under, around, or on the body of a petite woman, likely a shaman, buried 12,000 years ago in Israel.

The woman’s body was placed on materials like clay and the cores of gazelle horns, and in addition to the other items, sea shells, a wild boar’s forearm, and a human foot were put on her body.

These details about the intricate burial of an unknown woman come from a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, archaeologist Leore Grosman, who, along with a professor from the University of Connecticut, Natalie Munro, have carried out an analysis of the fascinating funeral of a mysterious woman who was just under five feet tall.

Together, the clues they discovered point to a six-stage funeral for a special woman, whose grave was sealed by a large rock.


"The high quality of preservation and recovery of a well-preserved grave of an unusual woman, probably a shaman, enabled the identification of six stages of a funerary ritual,” Grosman said, in a statement.

The small grave, first discovered in 2008, is located in northern Israel near the Hilazon river.

The researchers report that there was a great deal of preparation for the burial. Not only did the ancient people have to dig a pit to place the body in, but they had to procure 86 tortoises for their shells. Other objects and materials laid to rest with the woman include, flint, red ochre, and animal bones.

"The significant pre-planning implies that there was a defined 'to do' list, and a working plan of ritual actions and their order," Grosman added.

This burial, which took place about 12,000 years ago, happened during the Natufian period, an era that spanned 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. This archeological find, the researchers say, demonstrated that funeral rituals were becoming more important events to people during this time period.

The original discovery of this ancient grave was reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, which describes the woman as both elderly and disabled. The analysis of the multiple stages of this complex burial was recently published in the journal Current Anthropology.

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