Friday, January 28, 2011

Fox 'may have been prehistoric man's best friend'


Hunt: Man may use dogs to hunt foxes now, but the University of Cambridge research suggests early man kept foxes as pets thousands of years before their canine relatives

Early man may have preferred the fox as a pet rather than dogs, new findings suggest.
Researchers analysing remains at a prehistoric burial ground in Jordan have uncovered a grave in which a fox was buried with a human, dated thousands of years before dogs were kept as companions.

The University of Cambridge-led team believes that the unprecedented case - in which the remains of the animal and the man were then partially transferred to an adjacent grave - points to some kind of emotional link between human and fox.

Their research suggests that the fox may have been kept as a pet and was being buried to accompany its master, or mistress, to the afterlife.

If so, it marks the first known burial of its kind and suggests that long before man hunted foxes using dogs, our ancestors were keeping them as pets.

The cemetery, at Uyun-al-Hammam, in northern Jordan, is about 16,500 years old, which makes the grave 4,000 years older than the earliest known human-dog burial.

Pet: The research, published today, suggests the fox may have been kept as a pet and was being buried to accompany its master, or mistress, to the afterlife.

However, the close relationship between man and fox was probably short-lived.

Writing in the journal, PLoS One, published today, the researchers say it is unlikely foxes were ever fully domesticated and, despite their early head start, humans took to the more companionable dog for pets as time went on.

Studies carried out on foxes suggest that they can be brought under human control, but that the process is not easy because they are skittish and timid - so perhaps for that reason, the researchers suggest, dogs ultimately achieved 'best friend' status among humans instead.

Dr Lisa Maher, from the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, said: 'The burial site provides intriguing evidence of a relationship between humans and foxes which predates any comparable example of animal domestication.

'What we appear to have found is a case where a fox was killed and buried with its owner. Later, the grave was reopened for some reason and the human's body was moved.

'But because the link between the fox and human had been significant, the fox was moved as well, so that the person, or people, would still be accompanied by it in the afterlife.'

source: dailymail

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