Sunday, November 21, 2010

Were the Natufians Nilotes?

Alice C. Linsley

Over a million years ago elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, water buffaloes and lions roamed the Judean Hills around Jerusalem. Sacrificed 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, considered to be about 11,000 years old, was found in one of caves near Bethlehem. The figurine is the oldest artifact representing sexual intercourse.

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 has been found in other locations as well.

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."

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.

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.

That the Natufians were originally a Nilotic people 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.)

The Natufians populated an area that includes parts of Western Egypt (Fayoum Oasis), Palestine (especially around Mount Carmel), Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon between 15,000 and 9,000 years ago.

Were the Natufians the ancestors of the 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.

Natufian territory
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 3400 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.

Rebecca, Isaac's cousin bride was a descendant of Nahor, and his half-sister bride (living in Beersheba) was a descendant of Sheba. Jacob also married Horite brides in Rachel and Leah, both descendants of Na-Hor. Genesis 36 tells us that Esau married a Horite bride in Oholibamah. Ohol means tent and bama or bema means exalted, lifted up, or on a high place. (Barack Obama's father was Luo of the Alego clan of Kenya.)

When the Natufians lived in this area 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 at the Natufian burial sites. 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 are probably the ancestors of the biblical Horites, 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. Further, the animals buried with the woman are mentioned in the book of Job and the genealogical information in the Bible reveals that Job was a Horite.

This woman's burial clearly 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 Kushite celestial mother who was called Hathor-Meri, the mother of Horus. Her veneration spread throughout the ancient world.

Related reading: Natufian Burial Site in GalileeWhy Cows Were Sacred in the Ancient World; The Bull's Head in Antiquity; Abraham's People Had "Easter" EggsWho Were the Kushites?Abraham's Kushite AncestorsThe Christ in Nilotic Mythology; The Ra-Horus-Hathor Narrative


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

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