Burial and commemorative rites form significant components of many routines and activities accompanying the disposal and remembrance of the dead in numerous past and present societies. Various artifacts seem to have had an important role in burial and commemorative rituals and may have been used to reflect social unity and strengthen group identity. Burial-related paraphernalia clearly gained special importance in the southern Levant with the onset of the Natufian culture (ca. 15,000-11,500 calBP), a culture exhibiting cardinal changes in subsistence economy, social behavior, and symbolism. One hallmark of this culture is the appearance of large boulder mortars, massive implements frequently associated with burials and burial grounds, long accepted as a manifestation of technological skill and petrological knowledge. We report the results of a new study of Natufian boulder mortars and their contexts and present novel relevant data. Our conclusions suggest that Natufian boulder mortars share specific traits that go beyond size as well as use contexts. We suggest that they reflect common practices pertaining to Natufian burial and commemorative ceremonies and can be held as indicators of a south Levantine tradition overriding a variety of territorial and group-specific social and symbolic traits.
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