Flower Power

The Cultural Significance of Flowers and the Ascent of Man

By Elena Price
Humanity has always had a natural affinity with flora and fauna. Prehistoric man evolved into a tribal hunter-gatherer society that relied upon its connection with nature and the world around it. Man has always relied upon nature to provide himself with food and resources. However, nature’s resources were not always used in construction or to feed the expanding population.

Archaeological evidence suggests that some of these resources were used for art, decoration, communication and social entertainment. Wall paintings and cave drawings show that mankind has always had an eye for aesthetics. Art, literature, design, song and verse have been instrumental in the development of civilization throughout man’s evolution, and flowers have provided inspiration for these devices of social development and interaction throughout history. Who could forget Van Gogh’s Sunflowers or Monet’s Water-Lilies? Indeed, who could forget Shakespeare’s immortal line in Romeo and Juliet:
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (II, ii, 1-2)
Flowers, with their connection with beauty and nature, and their meanings within society, have been used as inspiration for all mediums of art, and have played an intrinsic part in the development of human civilization.

Flowers have also played an important role in burial customs throughout history. In the 1950s, an excavation was carried out in a site known as Shanidar Cave, situated in Northern Iraq, and nine Neanderthal skeletons, dating from between 60-80,000 years BP, were discovered. An analysis of soil samples taken from the area around the fourth skeleton, Shanidar 4, showed that there were pollen grains from various flowers around the body, suggesting that the flowers had been placed there deliberately, either for medicinal or ritual purposes.

In Egypt, as far back as 3,000 BC, flowers were an essential part of burial customs. For example, a sarcophagus discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 2006 was found to contain many woven flower garlands. There are also numerous tomb paintings and friezes depicting the importance of flowers within Egyptian life. Family members and mourners are believed to have worn garlands and left flowers at the tombs of loved ones, much as we do today.

Flowers were also seen as a symbol of prosperity. Coins from the Ptolemaic dynasty often depict the Cornucopia, or the Horn of Plenty, which is filled with flowers, fruit and vegetables, and was considered to be a symbol of wealth and prestige.

As well as being symbols of prosperity, grief and artistic inspiration, many ancient cultures considered flowers to be a suitable gift to symbolise prestige and honour. Flowers and wreaths were often presented to the champions of both Pan-Hellenic and Roman festivals, and victorious military generals were given wreaths when they marched through the streets of Rome. Archaeological evidence from Pompeii suggests that there were thriving flower garland businesses in Roman cities during both the Republic and the Principate eras.

History shows that flowers have always been an important part of human existence. Today, flowers online are used for many occasions, as declarations of love and respect and even just for simple enjoyment or decoration. It is certain that flowers will continue to be a significant source of inspiration and joy to us for many years to come.

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