Scientists discovered ancient flowers on the tomb of the Upper Palaeolithic Red Lady.
A team of researchers analyzed the remains of the 16,000-year-old fossilized pollen to determine someone placed flowers on the grave, which is located in Spain's El Mirón cave, the University of the Basque Country reported.
"They put whole flowers on the tomb, but it has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing plants was to do with a ritual offering for the dead person, or whether it was for a simpler purpose like, for example, to ward off the bad smells associated with the burial," said EHU's Ikerbasque lecturer José Iriarte.
The grave contains the remains of a woman who was between the ages of 35 and 40 at time of death. It is located at the back of the cave in a space between the wall and block that was once connected to the ceiling, but has now been knocked out of place. The grave is characterized by multiple engravings on the block. The body has been dubbed the "Red Lady" because of the reddish color of the bones and sediment they rest in.
When the burial took place, the conditions around the cave were believed to have been relatively dry and cold, leading to sparse tree cover composed of primarily pine and birch. Once this Magdalenian period was over, the climate most likely improved and tree cover increased. This change would have also brought about the introduction of hazelnut trees.
The team found a high concentration of pollen remnants from the Chenopodiaceae family within the cave, which may not have grown naturally around the cave.
"With their small, generally white or yellowish flowers we would not regard them as [colorful] plants today," Iriarte said, "although we cannot apply the Principle of Actualism to human conduct in these merely aesthetic matters."
The findings were published in a recent edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.