(Related: "Ancient Fig Find May Push Back Birth of Agriculture" [June 1, 2006].)
The people of Kfar HaHoresh were also dealing with fundamental societal change, archaeologists say.
One young male was found buried atop the remains of seven wild cattle.
It is likely among the first evidence of burial feasts, excavation leader Goring-Morris believes. Other people were buried with fox jaws.
"You have the first large-scale village communities with the beginnings of all the attendant problems we know today, such as land ownership and transfer of rights from one generation to the next," he said.
"An intensification of ceremonial practices would probably serve to alleviate some of the stresses and tensions within the society."
Also the shift in men's role from hunters to more settled herders and farmers may have reduced their status and self-image, Goring-Morris said. This may have led the prehistoric people to bury young male adults at Kfar HaHoresh with animals as a way of honoring their past lives as hunters.
"When societies are undergoing change, they sometimes prefer to look backwards instead of forwards," he said.
Some of the children buried at Kfar HaHoresh also received at least some of the same funerary treatments as adults, such as being buried with grave goods including pendants and fox jaws.
"As agriculture progressed and developed, symbolism developed in parallel," Tel Aviv University's Gopher added.
Skull on the Mantelpiece
The people at Kfar HaHoresh also manipulated bodies before burial.
Many of the bodies' skulls were removed postmortem, and their facial features were reconstructed with lime plaster.
(See related photos: "Headless Skeletons Reveal Ancient Ritual" [November 2007].)
"We are obviously dealing with preliterate societies," said Goring-Morris, who has received funding in the past from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic owns National Geographic News.)
"If you have the skull of your grandfather or grandmother on the mantelpiece at home, this could be your legal document that you were the owner of the house or had certain legal rights, passed from one generation to the next."
The longer bones of a number of bodies were found arranged in shapes, one of which appears to depict an animal.
Researchers also found flint tools, axes, and incised tokens. Other discoveries included seashells and exotic minerals from across the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea—finds that point to overland and maritime trade during the period.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES