Anthropologists discover earliest cemetery in Jordan

Washington, Feb 03 (ANI): Anthropologists have discovered the oldest cemetery in the Middle East at a site in northern Jordan.

Anthropologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge also discovered that the cemetery includes graves containing human remains buried alongside those of a red fox, suggesting that the animal was possibly kept as a pet by humans long before dogs ever were.

The 16,500-year-old site at Uyun al-Hammam was discovered in 2000 by an expedition led by University of Toronto professor Edward (Ted) Banning and Lisa Maher, an assistant professor of anthropology at U of T and research associate at the University of Cambridge.

"Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of at least 11 individuals - more than known from all other sites of this kind combined," says Banning, of U of T's Department of Anthropology.

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.

Either way, because the same grave that held the fox remains also contained other bones, Banning says that the find holds important clues about burial methods of civilizations past.

"The site has implications both for our understanding of the development of ideas about death and mortuary practice, and for our understanding of the beginnings of domestication of dog-like animals," said Banning.

Details of the find were published in the online journal PLoS One. (ANI)

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