For tens of thousands of years humans have buried their dead. Sometimes with elaborate markers like gravestones, sometimes accompanied by personal items that might have meant something to the deceased and often positioned very carefully in their final resting place. Throughout history, burial has generally been seen as a sign of respect for the dead, and more scientists are finding that that respect wasn’t just reserved for humans.
Many animals like horses, dogs and cats have been found buried with the same level of care as humans, suggesting that the human and animal bond has been strong throughout history.
1. Ancient domesticated dog lived and died among humans
Researchers digging in Siberia discovered the remains of a Husky-like canine that lived more than 7,000 years ago. The animal's body was found buried in a layer of a grave pit that, at other depths, contained the partial bones of five human bodies. Like the deceased humans, the dog was buried with other objects such as a spoon made out of antler. The researchers were able to learn that the dog ate the same foods the humans ate, and the dog showed signs of carrying weight on his back, suggesting that the dog lived among the people and helped them to carry loads.
"I think the act of treating it as a human upon its death indicates that people knew it had a soul, and that the mortuary rites it received were meant to ensure that this soul was properly cared for," said Robert Losey, lead author of the study.
2. Horse given burial on Greek Island
On the eastern Aegean island of Chios, roughly between the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., a number of bodies were found in a necropolis, some in pithoi (large vases) and some in sarcophagi. Researchers also found the remains of a horse in a resting position. Horses, like dogs and cats, have long lived alongside humans both as companions and work animals.
This horse is the first of its species to be found buried in the NE Aegean, prompting modern day humans to wonder what the circumstances were so long ago that led to the respectful burial of the equine.
3. Hundreds of prehistoric dogs found buried in the American Southwest
Unlike the previous two stories, which were one-off examples of animal burials, this one shows a trend. In what is now the Southwest United States, centuries before any Europeans arrived, ancient Americans were frequently buried with their dogs. Dody Fugate, an assistant curator at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in New Mexico, has counted hundreds of cases of canine burials, most located in New Mexico and Arizona between 400 B.C. and A.D. 1100. The dogs have been found buried with adults, children, jewelry and in groups.
"I have a database now of almost 700 dog burials, and a large number of them are either buried in groups in places of ritual or they're buried with individual human beings," said Fugate, who believes that these dogs were more than just pets. "I'm suggesting that the dogs in the New World in the Southwest were used to escort people into the next world, and sometimes they were used in certain rituals in place of people."
4. Prehistoric bobcat wearing necklace buried in Illinois
Usually, if an animal is buried with care, it's a domesticated animal, one that spent its days in the company of a select few humans. In this instance, however, a young bobcat was found buried in Illinois wearing a necklace made of bear teeth and marine animal remains and positioned so that the animal's paws were together. This all took place roughly 2,000 years ago, and is the only wild cat in the archaeological record have been buried by people. The cat was found about 50 miles north of St. Louis in one of 14 funeral mounds.
Because of the rarity of the find, no one is sure why the bobcat was at the human burial site or why the animal died, since it had no signs of trauma. One expert speculated that it could have been a pet or even held some religious significance.
5. Millions of mummified dogs discovered in Egypt
This story is a whole lot less heartwarming than the others, but it does make our list of ancient animal burials.
Nearly 8 million animals, most of them dogs, were discovered in ancient burial sites dedicated to Anubis, the god of the afterlife, in the catacombs south of Cairo. Why Anubis? He has the head of a canine, so he received canine offerings.
There were beloved pets in ancient Egypt, but as archaeologist and egyptologist Salima Ikram said of the findings, they are likely evidence of something similar to what we now call puppy mills being present during that time period. She said, "You don't get 8 million mummies without having puppy farms. And some of these dogs were killed deliberately so that they could be offered. So for us, that seems really heartless. But for the Egyptians, they felt that the dogs were going straight up to join the eternal pack with Anubis. And so they were going off to a better thing."
Animal burials don't stop with ancient times. We now have pet cemeteries, people buried with their dogs and cats, and plenty of cremated remains that are scattered onto favorite patches of woods and meadows. And that doesn't even begin to cover the number of people out in rural areas who do at-home burials for their animals. All of it boils down to this — a society that takes the time to bury its fallen animals, the ones they shared close relationships with, says something extraordinary about the bond between the two species.
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