Altho it seems like common sense that humans have used feasting ritually for a long long time, common sense can often be misleading. So it’s interesting to see what may be confirmation of a funeral feast for a shamaness in the shadowy era between the time of the great great cave paintings and the paleolithic era, and the birth of agriculture in the neolithic era.

Consider how religious cultural behaviors such as feasts and funerals affect your own consciousness.

In a cave above a creek in the Galilee region of northern Israel, scientists discovered the body of a petite, elderly, disabled woman, most probably a shaman, in 2005. As they continued to excavate, they found the woman apparently was intentionally laid to rest in a specially crafted hollow between the remains of at least 71 Mediterranean tortoises, as well as with seashells, beads, stone tools and bone tools. In a separate pit nearby, they also found bones of at least three wild, extinct cattle known as aurochs.

The cattle bones showed clear signs of butchery, with the bones cracked for marrow, while there were enough tortoises to supply meat for at least 35 people. Signs of burning were seen on both the cattle and turtle remains, suggesting they were cooked.

Altogether, these large amounts of meat seen in these roughly 12,000-year-old deposits might be remnants of a ritual feast held to commemorate the dead shaman, the researchers said.

Ancient feasts

The act of sharing food communally in a feast is one of the most universal and important behaviors seen in humanity, taking center stage in everything from the Last Supper to Thanksgiving. Although evidence for feasting is common in the early agricultural societies of the Neolithic, such evidence of pre-Neolithic, pre-agricultural feasting proved more elusive until now.

“Scientists have speculated that feasting began before the Neolithic period, which starts about 11,500 years ago,” said researcher Natalie Munro, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. “This is the first solid evidence that supports the idea that communal feasts were already occurring, perhaps with some frequency, at the beginnings of the transition to agriculture.”