‘Oldest known cremation in the Middle East’ was 9,000 years ago

Middle East

The oldest known cremation in the Middle East has been discovered and it happened 9,000 years ago after a young adult died after being hit by a flint projectile.

Scientists from the French National Centre for Scientific Research believe the remained found in present day Israel marked a cultural shift in funeral practices.  

Excavations at the Neolithic site of Beisamoun in Northern Israel uncovered the ancient cremation pit that dates back to between 7013 BC and 6700 BC. 

The remains of a corpse appear to have been intentionally incinerated as part of a funerary practice and are the oldest known cremation example in the region. 

This is a picture of the right coxal in situ - preserved almost complete by a piece of collapsed mud wall during the fire that burnt the rest of the remains of the young adult

This is a picture of the right coxal in situ - preserved almost complete by a piece of collapsed mud wall during the fire that burnt the rest of the remains of the young adult

This is a picture of the right coxal in situ – preserved almost complete by a piece of collapsed mud wall during the fire that burnt the rest of the remains of the young adult

The individual buried in the pyre-pit was injured by a flint projectile several months before dying as seen bystanders  the whole in this piece of bone

The individual buried in the pyre-pit was injured by a flint projectile several months before dying as seen bystanders  the whole in this piece of bone

The individual buried in the pyre-pit was injured by a flint projectile several months before dying as seen bystanders  the whole in this piece of bone

The remains comprise parts of one full skeleton of a young adult that was heated to a temperature of over 932 degrees Fahrenheit shortly after death.

What is left of the bones that belonged to the young person were feet, ribs, shoulder and part of a left arm – the rest had been burnt beyond recognition.

The remains sit inside a pit that appears to have been built with an open top and strong insulating walls, according to lead researcher Fanny Bocquentin.

Microscopic plant remains discovered inside the pyre-pit are likely leftover from the fuel for the fire, according to the findings published in the journal PLOS One.

The evidence led the research team to identify it as an intentional cremation of a fresh corpse, as opposed to the burning of dry remains or a tragic fire accident.

Dr Bocquentin said the cremation comes at an important period of transition in funerary practices in this region of the world.

‘Old traditions were on the way out, such as the removal of the cranium of the dead and their burial within the settlement, while practices like cremation were new.’

Segment of axial skeleton: ribs and vertebrae exposed in the middle of the structure

Segment of axial skeleton: ribs and vertebrae exposed in the middle of the structure

A section of the Beisamoun site where the pyre pit is visible. It's the oldest known example of a cremation in the Middle East

A section of the Beisamoun site where the pyre pit is visible. It's the oldest known example of a cremation in the Middle East

In the left is a segment of the skeleton that remained from the funeral pyre and on the right is a section of the site where the pyre can be seen

‘This change in funeral procedure might also signify a transition in rituals surrounding death and the significance of the deceased within society,’ she said.

‘Further examination of other possible cremation sites in the region will help elucidate this important cultural shift. 

‘This is a redefinition of the place of the dead in the village and in society.’

The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE

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