Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Natufian Culture

Dr. 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. The butchered remains of some of these animals are the earliest signs of humans living near Jerusalem.

A small Natufian sculpture (the Ain Sakhri Lovers) representing sexual intercourse was found in a cave near Bethlehem. The artifact dates to 9,000 years. Bethlehem has a long association with the biblical Horite Hebrew. Hur is said to be a "father" of Bethlehem. Salmon, a son of Hur (Hor), is called a "father of Bethlehem" in 1 Chronicles 2:54. 

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 stonework 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. 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.

When the Natufians lived in the Levant it received sufficient precipitation to sustain crops and orchards. Their diet consisted of meat, plants and fruits. They cultivated cereals which they harvested with sickle blades. Sickle blades are present at many sites within the Natufian heartland.

A human was buried with a juvenile dog at the Natufian site of Ein Mallaha (Davis and Valla, 1978; Tchernov and Valla, 1997). This is one of a relatively small number of Mesolithic burial sites indicating a close relationship between a human and a canine.

During the African Humid Period, the whole region from the Nile to the Jordan was wetter. There were abundant wadis, salt marshes, and swamps. This explains the abundance of tortoise shells found at Natufian burial sites.

The Natufians were baking bread 14,500 years ago. 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 located in the middle of huts.

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]

The Natufians practiced the ritual removal of teeth, 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 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.

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 early Hebrew?

Bethlehem is associated with the Horite Hebrew 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 Horite Hebrew were a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus and his mother Hathor. The oldest known Horite shrine city is Nekhen on the Nile and dates to 4000 B.C. 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 Hebrew. 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 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.

Archaeologists working at Hilazon Tachtit, near the Sea of Galilee, believe that a Natufian woman buried there was a shaman. 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 the buried women held a shamanic worldview but makes no specific connections to shamanic practices. Shamanic practice involves mediation between the spirits of dead ancestors and the community. However, ancestor veneration, fetishes, and burial of animals also characterizes burials among populations that had priests. The offices of priest and shaman represent distinct and contradictory worldviews. Communication with spirits is a common practice among shamans. That practice was forbidden to priests, whose role was to mediate between the community and the Creator God.

If the Natufians moved into Galilee from the Nile Valley, it is likely that they had priests since that office originates in the Nile region. The practices associated with the priesthood of the ancient Hebrew include animal sacrifice, circumcision, concern about ritual purity, sacred moral codes, etc. 

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. Hathor's veneration spread throughout the ancient world with the dispersion of the Horite and Sethite Hebrew priests, her devotees.

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, pp. 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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