Oldest Shaman Grave Found; Includes Foot, Animal Parts

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The artifacts found in the woman's grave shed light on some of the specifics of Natufian rituals from this period, said Grosman, whose study was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For example, the turtles appear to have been eaten as part of the burial ceremony. Their shells were then placed around the deceased woman. Pig bones were cracked open and their marrow was removed before the bones were placed beneath the woman's hand. The grave was closed with the slab perhaps to prevent damage caused by animals.

"Like Finding Napolean's Grave"

Harvard University anthropologist Ofer Bar-Yosef said the shaman grave is a rare find. For every 50 Natufian hunter-gatherers, only one would have been a shaman, he said.

"Finding a shaman's burial is like finding Napolean's grave," said Bar-Yosef, who was not involved in the study but who served with a group of fellow scientists who reviewed the report for inclusion in the journal.

"I've spent many years digging other Natufian sites, and I've found a bunch of graves, but I've never found anything like this."

The shaman's grave and its contents "finally give another view into a society that didn't leave behind a written record. … It's almost equivalent to a textual record."

Grosman's findings can assist researchers investigating shamanistic societies in other parts of the world, Bar-Yosef said. Though burial rituals differ from culture to culture, the graves of shamanic or religious leaders generally stand out from those of the general public, he added.

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