Traces of flowers found on Palaeolithic tomb

London: Placing flowers on the tomb could be quite an ancient practice as researchers have traced flowers placed on the tomb of the so-called Red Lady, dating to the early phase of the Stone Age.

The burial was discovered in El MirAn cave in Cantabria, Spain, in 2010.

“It has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing these plants was to give the dead woman a ritual offering, or whether they fulfilled a more simple purpose linked, for example, to hygiene or cleansing,” said one of the researchers Maria Jose Iriarte from University of the Basque Country.

Iriarte analysed the remains of fossilised pollen dating back more than 16,000 years ago and which appeared on the tomb.

At the sepulchral level in the cave and there only, the researchers found a high concentration of pollen of plants of a single family, the so-called Chenopodiaceae.

The appearance of part of this pollen grouped together with the absence of this taxon in other records of the same archaeological level from other parts of the cave suggest that they did not appear naturally reflecting the plant landscape around the cavity.

Having ruled out other possibilities for various reasons, like the fact that these plants may have been used for food or therapeutic purposes, “the most plausible hypothesis is that complete flowers were placed on the tomb,” Uriarte explained.

The grave containing the osseous remains of a woman aged between 35 and 40 is located at the back of the cave in a small space between the wall and a block that has come away from the roof.

What is more, there are various engravings on this block that could belong to the same period as the burial.

The reddish colour of the bones and the sediment in which they lie point to the use of ochre as part of the interment. Hence the name ‘Red Lady’ given to the remains.

The study appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science.