A prehistoric discovery in a Middle Eastern cemetery revealed that humans may have kept foxes as pets—and even brought them into their graves—long before dogs entered the picture. Researches at the University of Cambridge in England say the ancient graveyard in northern Jordan is about 16,500 years old, before humans were thought to have domesticated animals.
The site revealed that a fox found buried with a human appeared to have been treated differently than the other animals buried at the site. This led researchers to believe a special social relationship existed between the humans and the fox buried there. Details of the find were published in the January issue of PLoS ONE.
According to researchers, although foxes are relatively easy to tame, domesticating them might have failed because of their skittish and timid nature. This might explain why dogs ultimately achieved man’s best friend status instead. However, fox symbolism and fox remains are common in later Stone Age sites, both in domestic and burial contexts. So, researchers say, even when other animals were domesticated, prehistoric people maintained an interest in the fox.