World’s Oldest Cemetery Comes with Pets

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This is the red fox skull from Grave I at 'Uyun al-Hammam in Jordan after conservation and reconstruction.A 16,500 year-old grave site at ‘Uyun al-Hammam, Jordan is still yielding controversy about humans and pets.

Most of the individuals buried at the Jordan site were found with what are known as “grave goods,” such as stone tools, a bone spoon, animal parts, and red ochre (an iron mineral). One grave contained the skull and right upper arm bone of a red fox, with red ochre adhered to the skull, along with bones of deer, gazelle and wild cattle. Another nearby grave contained the nearly complete skeleton of a red fox, missing its skull and right upper arm bone, suggesting that portions of a single fox had been moved from one grave to another in prehistoric times.

“What we appear to have found is a case where a fox was killed and buried with its owner,” says Maher, who directs excavations at the site. “Later, the grave was reopened for some reason and the human’s body was moved. But because the link between the fox and the human had been significant, the fox was moved as well.”

The researchers say that it could suggest that foxes were at one time treated in much the same way as dogs, in that there could have been early attempts to tame foxes, but no successful domestication. Studies have shown that foxes can be brought under human control but is not easily done given their skittish and timid nature, which may explain why dogs ultimately achieved “man’s best friend” status instead.

This discovery seems to confirm the findings from the 60 year-old Soviet experiments with silver foxes (also covered here). Dmitri Belyaev, and now Lyudmila Trut, have proven that foxes are as domesticable as gray wolves, the genetic forbears of today’s dogs.

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Filed under: Eurasian Balkans, Science Tagged: archaeology, dmitri belyaev, foxes, jordan, lyudmilla trut, pets

 

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