Paleolithic people used pebbles for burial rituals

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Paleolithic people used pebbles for burial rituals

Elongated pebble stones were needed to decorate the bodies of the deceased with ocher.

People who lived on the shores of the Ligurian Sea during the Paleolithic period used pebbles in their funeral rituals, according to the authors of an article published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

Pebbles from the Arena Candide cave. (Photo: Université de Montréal.) This is how, according to the researchers, they worked with pebbles. (Photo: Université de Montréal.) Archaeologists excavating the Arena Candide cave. (Photo: Université de Montréal.) ‹ › View full size

The researchers studied in detail twenty-nine pebbles that were found during recent excavations in the Arena Candide cave (northwest of modern Italy). The stones date back to between 11 and 13 thousand years ago. All of them have an elongated shape, most have traces of ocher, many are deliberately broken. Similar pebbles were used as funeral gifts in burials discovered here in the 40s of the 20th century.

According to the authors of the work, pebbles were collected from neighboring beaches and brought to the cave in order to apply ocher to the bodies of the deceased. After the completion of the ritual, the stones were specially broken, breaking with a blow to the central part. This was probably a way to “kill” the guns, to deprive them of their symbolic power.

It is noted that only halves of pebbles were found in the cave. The remaining fragments could be taken with them as a memorable item or talisman. Perhaps this is how local residents wanted to maintain contact with the deceased. Such symbolic actions are reminiscent of some modern customs: close friends divide some trinkets into two parts, and each of them takes the halves for themselves.

If the researchers’ conclusions are correct, then we have the first-ever evidence of damage to objects for ritual purposes. Typically, such rituals date back to about 8 thousand years ago, that is, the Neolithic era, when Europeans were already engaged in agriculture. However, those who broke the pebbles on the graves of their fellow tribesmen in Liguria lived much earlier and were hunter-gatherers.

It is also important to note that the work points to a new category of findings. During excavations, pebbles are often considered ordinary stones that accidentally ended up on a monument and are thrown away. Now, the researchers hope, archaeologists will pay more attention to them.

Based on materials from The International Business Times.

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Martin Jenkins

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