An excavation of hundreds of animal remains at a site along Egypt’s Red Sea coast has revealed the world’s oldest pet cemetery, according to a report.
The nearly 2,000-year-old burial ground at the Berenice port in southern Egypt, held the complete remains of more than 500 cats, nearly three dozen dogs, 15 monkeys, a fox and a falcon, Live Science reported.
None of the animals in the cemetery were mummified and there was no evidence of deliberate killing as was common in ancient Egypt as a sacrifice to the gods. Many of the animals had made it to old age or had deformities or diseases that did not make them useful as mousers or hunters and would have required human care.
Some of the pets were also buried wearing “precious and exclusive” iron-made collars or beaded necklaces.
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While some scholars argue that the concept of “pets” was not known in the ancient world, the “fundamental conclusion is a noticeable desire of human beings to be in the company of animals,” lead researcher and zooarchaeologist Marta Osypińska, of the Polish Academy of Sciences, wrote about the study first published in World Archaeology in January.
“One clear characteristic feature” of the cemetery “was the intentional placement of [an] animal in a sleep-like position,” Osypińska wrote, adding that many of the animals clearly had no “utilitarian” function because they were miniature dogs, macaques or were disabled, sick or older animals.
“Both the careful preparation of the burials, the remains of their diet and incontrovertible evidence of the human care of disabled individuals draws us to the conclusion that dogs, cats and monkeys enjoyed close emotional relationships and deliberate care,” she wrote.
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Osypińska noted that Berenice was “empty” and “hostile” and “at the end of the world.”
“Merchants came here to bring exclusive goods to the empire,” she told Live Science. “What they took on such a long and difficult journey: a beloved dog, or they [had] a monkey brought from India, or kept cats.”
Some of the animals were wrapped in blankets or makeshift coffins and others were accompanied by items like large vessels or dishes.
Osypińska told Live Science that a piece of ceramic with a note on it – an “ancient text message” – told a cat owner not to worry about the pets while they were away (when the pets were still alive) because someone else for taking of them.
The cemetery was established in the first century A.D. during the country’s early Roman period. Berenice at the time was an important port and trading post between Egypt and other parts of the world.
The study said the burial ground had “ambiguous” cultural rules, which were “not very” Egyptian or Roman.
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The cemetery at the archaeological site, which has been excavated for years as an ancient Egyptian dump, was found by accident in 2011 and Osypińska became involved after archaeologists first started finding the pet graves. Their research was finished last year.