for National Geographic News
Prehistoric graves with an unusual abundance of phallic figurines and oddly arranged human remains have been found in Israel, archaeologists announced recently.
Near Nazerat (Nazareth), the Stone Age site, called Kfar HaHoresh, dates to between 8,500 and 6,750 B.C.
The site was uninhabited and probably served surrounding villages as a centralized burial and cult center, said excavation leader Nigel Goring-Morris of Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.
Archaeologists have primarily found female symbolic figurines in other nearby burials of this time period.
"At Kfar HaHoresh, all the gender-oriented symbolism seems to be male," Goring-Morris said. "Researchers in the past have put more emphasis on the 'mother goddess' of agriculture."
Among other oddities at the newly excavated site are human bones arranged into shapes and even buried with human remains.
(Read about a Stone Age cemetery found in the Sahara desert.)
Very Unusual Site
At least 65 individuals—mostly young males between the ages of 20 and 30—were found buried in plaster-surfaced structures. The largest measures 33 feet (10 meters) by at least 66 feet (20 meters).
"This is not a regular site," said Avi Gopher, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University. "There are many burials and many of them are very unusual."
"Generally, we did not have central cemeteries during this period. But there may well be places where the emphasis on burial was greater," added Gopher, who is not involved in the excavation.
The period between 8,500 and 6,750 B.C. was characterized by a transition from hunting and gathering to large, village-based agricultural communities that domesticated crops and livestock.
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