(ORDO NEWS) — In 2011, archaeologists excavating a 2nd-century AD rubbish dump near an ancient Red Sea port unearthed the remains of a cancer-stricken hound dog wrapped in a homemade palm leaf mat.
Over the next decade, the team managed to find 585 skeletons of cats, dogs, monkeys and foxes in an area of about 300 square meters.
Many of the animals were wearing collars, as well as textiles and pottery. So scientists have found that almost 2,000 years ago, the inhabitants of Berenice, a trading post in Egypt under the rule of the Romans, created perhaps the oldest pet cemetery in the world.
Archaeologists were shocked to learn about the existence of an ancient cemetery for pets, as this contradicts previous findings that people in the past used animals only for practical purposes.
These are not the first finds of animal graves. At sites dating from 7,000 to 27,000 years ago in Eurasia and North America, archaeologists have found burials of dogs that probably accompanied hunter-gatherers.
The ancient Egyptians mummified cats, crocodiles, and other creatures to be placed in a crypt with dead people for spiritual purposes. Berenice is the earliest evidence of a necropolis for real pets, not animals meant for food, work, or rituals.
To prove this, an archaeologist from the University of Wrocław Marta Osipńska and her colleagues analyzed the age, health status and ritual accessories of the buried animals. Unlike mummies, there were no signs of deliberate killing on the bones of pets.
Many of them lived long lives thanks to the care of people, despite the fact that traces of fractures or natural diseases were found on the bones of some pets.
The remains of the animals also indicate that, by the standards of those times, they were well fed – presumably, fish or lamb tenderloin. And given the presence of collars on animals, all signs indicate that the buried pets during life (and after death) were truly loved and cared for.
The people of Berenica used the cemetery in the first and second centuries AD, when the settlement received merchants from all over the world. Some of the animals, such as the two Asian macaque monkeys found, probably accompanied the immigrants who arrived at the port.
After decades of working there, excavation director Stephen Sidebotham, a historian at the University of Delaware, felt a particular liking for the people of Berenice.
He found a beagle wrapped in palm leaves. As a big pet lover, Steven says: “I can feel what the owner of this dog felt when she died. The most human aspect of this place is not the people, but the animals they lived with.”
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