Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Natufian Culture

Alice C. Linsley

Over a million years ago elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, water buffaloes and lions roamed the Judean Hills around Jerusalem. Remains of some of these animals have been found in Bethlehem, less than 5 miles from Jerusalem. The bones date to between 1.4-1.8 million years. These finds are the earliest signs of human existence near Jerusalem.

A small Natufian sculpture representing sexual intercourse was found in one of caves near Bethlehem. The artifact dates to about 11,000 years ago. Bethlehem has along association with the biblical Horite Hebrew (Gen. 36). It was once a settlement in Edomite territory.
Natufian territory

The British archaeologist Dorothy Gerrod coined the term "Natufian" while studying remains from the Shuqba cave at Wadi an-Natuf in Palestine. The term is derived from the place, but Natufian ceramics and stone work have been found in many locations ranging from Turkey to the Sinai.

The Natufians are an early biblical population. Their area included parts of Western Egypt (Fayoum Oasis), Palestine (especially around Mount Carmel), Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon between 15,000 and 9,000 years ago.

When the Natufians lived in the Levant it received sufficient precipitation to sustain crops and orchards. During the Holocene period, the whole region from the Nile to the Jordan was wet and there were abundant wadis, salt marshes and swamps. This explains the abundance of tortoise shells found at Natufian burial sites.

Natufian territory is in the heartland of biblical Eden which extended from the Upper Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, according to Genesis 2:10-14.

The Natufians in Jordan were baking bread 14,500 years ago. Their diet consisted of meat and plants. The bread was made from wild cereals such as barley, einkorn or oats, and tubers from an aquatic papyrus relative. These were ground into flour and baked in round fire pits made from flat basalt stones, and were located in the middle of huts.

The Natufians practiced the removal of teeth as an initiation rite, a trait of Nilotic peoples. Among the Nilotic Luo initiation involves the removal of six front teeth using the tip of a spear. This practice, called naak or nak, persists in some Luo clans, especially in Africanized Churches in Luoland, such as the Legio Maria sect. The Luo recognize “Kar-nak” to mean place of rituals.

British Archaeologist, Graeme Barker, notes "the similarities in the respective archaeological records of the Natufian culture of the Levant and of contemporary foragers in coastal North Africa across the late Pleistocene and early Holocene boundary."[1]

Harvard Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, Ofer Bar-Yosef, notes that microlithic forms such as arched backed bladelets and La Mouillah points, as well as the parthenocarpic figs found in Natufian territory, originated in the Sudan.[2]

It appears that the Natufians were originally a Nilotic people. This is further suggested by the fact that Natufian physiology indicates a Mediterranean type with negroid affinities. (See Marcellin Boule, Henri Vallois, and René Verneau, Les Grottes Palaeolithiques de Beni Séghoual, pp. 212—214.) [3]

Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA, Christopher Ehret, notes that the intensive use of plants among the Natufians was first found in Africa, as a precursor to the development of farming in the Fertile Crescent.[4]

Is there a relationship between the Natufians and the biblical Horites?

Bethlehem is associated with the Horites in I Chronicles 4:4 which names Hur (Hor) as the "father of Bethlehem." Rahab of Jericho was the wife of Salmon, the son of Hur (Horite). Salmon is called the "father of Bethlehem" in 1 Chronicles 2:54. Rahab was the grandmother of Boaz who married Ruth. Salmon is a Horite name associated with Bethlehem in 1 Chronicles 2:51.

The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus and his mother Hathor. The oldest known Horite shrine city is Nekhen in Sudan and dates to about 4000 BC. The votive offerings there are ten times larger than those found elsewhere, attesting to the prestige of the shrine.

The prominence of the Horites is attested in Genesis 36 which gives the ruling line of Seir the Horite. These people have been recognized as Abraham's kin, and the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Horites of Seir is identical to the pattern of Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors.

Decorated ostrich-egg vessels and ostrich shell beads also have been found at Natufian sites and burial grounds. In ancient Kush, painted ostrich eggs were placed in the graves of children, symbolizing the hope of life after death.

It is not far-fetched to speculate that the Natufians were related to the Nilotes among whom there were Horite priests whose religious beliefs and practices can be traced to the Upper Nile. The principal religious office of the Horites was that of the priest, so it is curious that archaeologists working at Hilazon Tachtit, near the Sea of Galilee, insist that this burial site suggests shamanic practices. Here is the pertinent section of their report:

The goods accompanying the burial are also typical of shaman burials. Tortoises, cow tails, eagle wings, and fur-bearing animals continue to play important symbolic and shamanistic roles in the spiritual arena of human cultures worldwide today [e.g., (28)]. It seems that the woman in the Natufian burial was perceived as being in a close relationship with these animal spirits. Shamans are universally recorded cross-culturally, in hunter gatherer groups and small-scale agricultural societies (25). Nevertheless, they have rarely been documented in the archaeological record [but see (29)], and none have been reported from the Paleolithic of Southwest Asia. Perhaps, it is not surprising if clear evidence for a shaman comes from the Natufian, as the profound social and economic changes associated with the transition to agriculture [the Neolithization process (6)] surfaced during the Natufian and undoubtedly entailed equally substantial ideological changes (30, 31, 32). Whether the changes in the spiritual outlook preceded and triggered the economic changes (33) or vice versa, an inseparable interplay is clearly observed between ideological and socioeconomic change across the forager-to-farmer transition. The unique grave at Hilazon Tachtit Cave provides us with rare concrete evidence for those processes in their initial stages at the termination of the Paleolithic on the eve of the Neolithic transformation. (From here.)

The report assumes that one of the buried women was a shaman, something that can't be ascertained from the evidence. Note that the report makes no specific connections between the supposed female shaman and observed shamanic practices. This is pure conjecture!  It is highly unlikely that these people had both priests and shamans since the two offices represent distinct and contradictory worldviews. Shamanic practice involves traces in which the shaman mediates between the spirits of dead ancestors and the community. Such a practice was forbidden to priests, whose role was to mediate between the community and the Creator God.

The Natufians were more likely to have had priests since that office originates in the Nile region and the priestly office is older than that of the shaman. Shamans are found among people groups that are geographically distant from the point of origin of humans in Africa. When we move closer to the point of origin, we find practices that we associate with the priesthood of the ancient Hebrew: animal sacrifice, circumcision, concern about ritual purity, sacred moral codes, etc. Thus, it is safe to conclude that the biblical priesthood is older than the office of the shaman. Its point of origin is among Abraham’s Nilotic and Proto-Saharan ancestors. These peoples had already dispersed into the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Southern Europe, and the Indus Valley between 70,000 and 50,000 years ago.

It is interesting to note that the animals buried with the Natufian woman are mentioned in the book of Job and the genealogical information in the Bible reveals that Job was a Horite Hebrew. This woman's burial indicates that she was of high rank among her people. However, we should not assume that she was a shaman when the symbolism of the animals found in her grave is easily explained in the context of the religious beliefs of the Upper Nile. These animals were sacred to the ancient Nubians and Kushites who had priests, not shamans.

The two birds, which appear to be released from the woman's hand, likely represent the binary worldview of Abraham's ancestors and remind us of the two birds released by Noah. The leopard’s skin designated royalty and was worn over the shoulders by Kushite and Nilo-Saharan ruler-priests, with the paws crossed over the breast. The cow was the totem of the celestial mother who was called Hathor, the mother of Horus. Her veneration spread throughout the ancient world.

Related reading: Natufian Burial Site in Galilee; World's Oldest Bread Found in Jordan; Shamanic Practice and the Priesthood; Boats and Cows of the Proto-Saharans


1. Barker G, Transitions to farming and pastoralism in North Africa, in Bellwood P, Renfrew C (2002), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis, pp 151–161.

2. Bar-Yosef  O., Pleistocene connections between Africa and South West Asia: an archaeological perspective. The African Archaeological Review; Chapter 5, pg 29-38; Kislev ME, Hartmann A, Bar-Yosef O, Early domesticated fig in the Jordan Valley. Nature 312:1372–1374.

3. The French School of Anthropology developed under the influence of Paul Broca. Boule studied the Peking Man fossils, Henri Vallois served as Chair of the Museum of Natural History in Paris from 1960 to 1967, and René Verneau studied paleolithic rock paintings in North Africa.

4. Ehret (2002) The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia

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