Prehistoric Pets: Was Man’s First Best Friend a Fox?

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In a 16,500 year-old graveyard in Jordan, archaeologists have found evidence of man’s first furry friend: a fox.

Archaeologists from the University of Toronto in Ontario and Cambridge University in England uncovered remains of the fox, alongside other animals, at a burial site containing 11 sets of human remains.  The fox’s remains are seen to be more significant than those of the other animals, as they showed signs of decoration and were moved, along with with a human’s body, when the site was reopened some years after the initial burial.

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A researcher from the University of Cambridge, Lisa Maher, said the team were surprised when they made their discovery: “When we were first excavating the site, we thought it might have been a dog,” she said, but upon further analysis the remains were shown to belong to a red fox.

It’s not certain whether the fox was a “pet” in the modern sense of the word. Many hunter-gatherer tribes formed close spiritual bonds with the animals they hunted, often involving them in death rituals. But those working on the site were keen to stress the similarities of this site to burial sites from 4,000 years later. These similarities suggest, according to Maher, that “it probably was a more emotional relationship of one particular fox to one particular person.”

Archaeologists are finding earlier and earlier evidence of the close bonds between animals and humans, with these fox remains the first of their kind. Although naturally timid, the red fox is tameable, but was probably ousted as “top dog” when humans discovered that dogs took to being pets much more readily.

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“It’s certainly a big deal for prehistoric archeology,” Lisa Maher said, “but it’s also a big deal for how we understand human-animal relationships today and in the past.” So, if these foxy remains prove to be those of man’s first pet, they mark the start of one of history’s most constant relationships, that between man and dog. (via NPR)