Natufian Burial Reconstruction Image via Wikimedia Commons
Identifying the grave of an ancient shaman would seem to be impossible but that has been done recently in Israel. Archeologists discovered the skeleton of a 12,000 year old, female shaman who belonged to the Near East Natufian Culture of 15,000 to 11,500 BCE. Grave offerings included 50 complete tortoise shells, a leopard’s pelvis, the wing tip of a golden eagle, tail of a cow, two marten skulls and a human foot. The forearm of a large boar was aligned with the woman’s left humerus, an arrangement that must have had magical significance. All of these animals are rare in Natufian graves and the assemblage is highly unusual. The tortoises were eaten before their shells (‘carapace’) were put in the grave, perhaps this meal was part of the burial ritual.
Image by Donar Reiskoffer
The burial itself can only be explained as that of a shaman who was set in her grave with the totemic animals of her clan and also the personal totemic animals that gave her insight and likely conferred healing powers as well. The shaman’s body was placed in an unusual position, and rocks covered her head, pelvis and arms. Her people may have been attempting to protect the body against animal scavengers and also keep her spirit in the cave and among her people.
This shaman was a 45 year old, petite woman at the time of her death. She had a spinal disability and would have walked with a limp, dragging her foot. Considering that the average life expectancy of a Natufian was about 30 years, this ancient sybil was extremely old for her time. She must have been cared for, and attended to, with great attention and affection in order to achieve this long life.
Here, we have a rare, real historical example of an ‘ancient wise woman’, someone who used her great power to heal the sick and benefit her people. And because she did so, she was revered and protected by her clan, even in death, with a respectful burial, fitting for a leader of the time.