Peoples living around Mount Carmel in what is today northern Israel positioned the bodies of their dead on beds of fragrant wild flowers such as Judean sage as well as blooming plants of the mint and figwort families, scientists at the Weismann Institute of Science reported Wednesday.
The graves, dated between 11,700 to 13,700 years old, represent the oldest known use of flowers in grave lining, they said.
The graves were created by the Natufians, prehistoric hunter-gatherers who were widespread in the Near East.
Many of the intentionally arranged plants were flowering at the time of burial and would have had a strong aroma, the researchers said.
The plants left impressions in the mud at the bottom of the graves but not it any other areas of the burial site, strengthening the theory the plants were intentionally placed as part of a funerary ritual.
If the Natufians had the same positive associations with flowers as people today, the researchers said, these ancient humans may have sought to ensure a pleasant passage for the deceased from the world of the living.