Zeder

Ancient bobcat buried like a human being

About 2000 years ago in what is today western Illinois, a group of Native Americans buried something unusual in a sacred place. In the outer edge of a funeral mound typically reserved for humans, villagers interred a bobcat, just a few months old and wearing a necklace of bear teeth and marine shells. The discovery represents the only known ceremonial burial of an animal in such mounds and the only individual burial of a wild cat in the entire archaeological record, researchers claim in a new study. The villagers may have begun to tame the animal, the authors say, potentially shedding light on how dogs, cats, and other animals were domesticated.

“It’s surprising and marvelous and extremely special,” says Melinda Zeder, a zooarchaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. But Zeder, who was not involved in the study, says it’s unclear whether these people treated the bobcat as a pet or invested the animal with a larger spiritual significance. Read more.

Prehistoric Japanese graves provide best evidence yet that dogs were our ancient hunting companions

Before dogs were our friends, they were our hunting companions, tracking and taking down everything from deer to wild boar. At least that’s the speculation; scientists have little proof that ancient canines actually played this role. Now, a study of more than 100 dog burials in prehistoric Japan claims to provide the strongest evidence yet that early dogs did indeed help people hunt—and may have been critical to human survival in some parts of the world.

“Until now, people have just said it rather than demonstrated it,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t part of the work. The study, she notes, dug into Japanese archaeological literature rarely seen by foreign scientists. “These findings have been hiding in plain sight.” Read more.

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Ancient bobcat buried like a human being

By

David Grimm

About 2000 years ago in what is today western Illinois, a group of Native Americans buried something unusual in a sacred place. In the outer edge of a funeral mound typically reserved for humans, villagers interred a bobcat, just a few months old and wearing a necklace of bear teeth and marine shells. The discovery represents the only known ceremonial burial of an animal in such mounds and the only individual burial of a wild cat in the entire archaeological record, researchers claim in a new study. The villagers may have begun to tame the animal, the authors say, potentially shedding light on how dogs, cats, and other animals were domesticated.

“It’s surprising and marvelous and extremely special,” says Melinda Zeder, a zooarchaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. But Zeder, who was not involved in the study, says it’s unclear whether these people treated the bobcat as a pet or invested the animal with a larger spiritual significance.

The mound is one of 14 dirt domes of various sizes that sit on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River, about 80 kilometers north of St. Louis. Their builders belonged to the Hopewell culture, traders and hunter-gatherers who lived in scattered villages of just a couple of dozen individuals each and created animal-inspired artwork, like otter-shaped bowls and ceramics engraved with birds. “Villages would come together to bury people in these mounds,” says Kenneth Farnsworth, a Hopewell expert at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey in Champaign. “It was a way to mark the area as belonging to your ancestors.”

Archaeologists rushed to excavate the mounds in the early 1980s because of an impending highway project. When they dug into the largest one—28 meters in diameter and 2.5 meters high—they unearthed the bodies of 22 people buried in a ring around a central tomb that contained the skeleton of an infant. They also discovered a small animal interred by itself in this ring; marine shells and bear teeth pendants carved from bone lay near its neck, all containing drill holes, suggesting they had been part of a collar or necklace. The Hopewell buried their dogs—though in their villages, not in these mounds—and the researchers assumed the animal was a canine. They placed the remains in a box, labeled it “puppy burial,” and shelved it away in the archives of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield.

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