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Man’s First Best Friend Might Have Been A Fox – by NPR Staff

In a dusty, ancient burial site in northern Jordan, archaeologists
have made a startling discovery: a fox buried alongside human remains.

It seems some 16,000 years ago, several millennia before any animals
were domesticated, humans may have been making an early attempt to
keep pets. Red foxes, to be precise.

It’s a surprising find, Cambridge researcher Lisa Maher tells NPR’s
Linda Wertheimer. “When we were first excavating the site, we thought
it might have been a dog,” she says. It wasn’t until her team analyzed
the animal’s remains that it realized it was a fox.

That the fox was a pet is only one of several possibilities, however.
It may instead have had totemic or spiritual significance to the
culture. But Maher’s team compared the burial site to sites from 4,000
years later, when domesticated dogs did accompany human burials. The
similarities suggest “that it probably was a more emotional
relationship of one particular fox to one particular person,” she
says.

Those similarities are also significant because they highlight a
continuity in mortuary practices through time, Maher adds.

“We’re seeing these things, these similarities in mortuary practices
and relationships to humans and animals in a much greater time depth
than we had previously,” she says.

This skull was part of a red fox skeleton found buried with human
remains at an ancient burial site in northern Jordan.

If the fox were indeed a pet, it would be a pretty big deal. “It’s
certainly a big deal for prehistoric archeology,” Maher says, “but
it’s also a big deal for how we understand human-animal relationships
today and in the past.”

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