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Earliest Middle East cemetery discovered

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Toronto (UPI) Feb 2, 2011
Canadian anthropologists say they have discovered the oldest cemetery in the Middle East at a site in northern Jordan, dating to 16,500 years ago.

The site at 'Uyun al-Hammam was discovered by an expedition led by University of Toronto Professor Edward Banning and Lisa Maher, an assistant professor of anthropology, a UT release reported Wednesday.

Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of at least 11 individuals -- more than known from all other sites of this kind combined," Banning said.

Previous research had identified the earliest cemeteries in the region in a somewhat later period from 15,000 to 12,000 years ago, the researchers said.

The cemetery includes two graves containing human remains buried alongside those of a red fox, suggesting that foxes were possibly kept as pets by humans long before dogs ever were.

Foxes can be brought under human control, studies have shown, but it's difficult given their skittish and timid nature, which may explain why dogs ultimately achieved "man's best friend" status instead.

But the fox-dog analogy should not be taken too far, Banning said.

"We should remember that some more recent hunter-gatherers consider themselves to have social relationships with a wide range of wild animals, including ones they hunt," he said, "and that this sometimes led to prescribed ways to treat the remains of animals, as well as to represent relationships between particular humans and particular animals."

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