The oldest example of grave flowers has been discovered in Israel.

An ancient burial pit dating to nearly 14,000 years ago contained impressions from stems and flowers of aromatic plants such as mint and sage.

The new find "is the oldest example of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead," said study co-author Dani Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Ancient tombs The burial pits, the first true gravesites in the world, were excavated nearly a half a century ago from Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel, Israel.

The people who made the tombs were part of a Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago.

The region contains graves for hundreds of skeletons, including a burial of an ancient shaman woman.

[In Photos: 14th-Century Black Death Grave Discovered] The Natufians were the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a more sedentary one.

They formed fixed settlements, built heavy furniture, domesticated the wolf, and began to experiment with domesticating wheat and barley, Nadel told Live Science.

Soon after, humans evolved the first villages, developed agriculture and went on to found some of the first empires in the world.

Past evidence suggested that humans only started using flowers in graves more recently.

(A 35,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site called Shanidar Cave in Iraq contained pollen, but subsequent research revealed that it was likely that rodents living in the caves brought the pollen there, not humans.) Though archaeologists first excavated Raqefet Cave years ago, Nadel and his colleagues did a more thorough excavation starting in 2004.

The team found four burial sites, containing a total of 29 skeletons, which contained impressions from plant stems and flowers.

The stems had a square cross-section, a relatively uncommon trait that is found in mint, sage and other aromatic plants from the region.

When they looked at the material under a scanning electron microscope, they found tiny phytoliths, or microscopic crystals made by plants.