University of Connecticut Associate Professor of Anthropology Natalie Munro and a team of scientists digging at an ancient burial site near Karmiel, Israel, found unusually high densities of butchered tortoise and wild cattle, suggesting the people who lived in the area at the time gathered there for "special rituals to commemorate the burial of the dead, and that feasts were central elements," a National Science Foundation release said Monday.
Such communal feasts were instrumental in bringing about the world's first established communities, the researchers say.
"Feasting ... is one of humanity's most universal and unique social behaviors," the researchers say in an article published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers say they believe feasts may have played a significant role in easing the potentially difficult transition from a hunting-gathering lifestyle to one of agricultural dependency.
"Sedentary communities require other means to resolve conflict, smooth tensions and provide a sense of community," Munro said. "We believe that feasts, especially in funerary contexts, served to integrate communities by providing this sense of community."