Discovery of 2,000-Year-Old Pet Cemetery Shows Ancient Egyptians Loved Their Pets, Too

Posted by TF Oren
Photos by S.E. Sidebotham via USA Today

Our obsession with pets is nothing new.

Throughout human history, companion animals have been a constant. As proof of this, archaeologists have recently unearthed evidence of some long-ago beloved pets in the form of a 2,000-year-old pet cemetery.

Discovered in the ancient Egyptian coastal town of Berenike, the cemetery holds the remains of dogs, cats, and even monkeys.

According to archaeologists, some of the pets were discovered to have been wearing iron collars and other adornments when they were buried. In addition, some of the pets' graves contained beads, mats, and pottery, suggesting that the animals were buried deliberately rather than simply disposed of as trash.

Marta Osypi?ska of the Polish Academy of Sciences says that the manner in which the animals were buried indicates an "emotional (relationship) between men and pets as we know it today."

An iron collar adorned with beads was among the items discovered in the pet cemetery.

Pet ownership was common in ancient Egypt. However, according to Osypi?ska, the discovery of a pet-only cemetery is significant because pets were usually buried alongside their owners. This particular site contained the remains of two humans, but they were buried some three centuries after the pets.

Osypi?ska and her team discovered the pet cemetery by accident. They were excavating a trash dump near the outskirts of Berenike when they came across the animals' graves. The graves date back to the first and second centuries A.D., when the Romans exercised influence over the port town, then a busy trading center.

There have been other discoveries of animal cemeteries in Egypt. One such site contained a catacomb holding some 8 million mummified dogs. Pilgrims would sometimes purchase the mummified animals to use as offerings. According to Wim Van Neer of Belgium's Natural History Institute, it is believed that animals found at these types of sites were bred specifically for sacrifice and mummification. So, it is possible that the animals at the Berenike site were buried for similar purposes.

However, Osypi?ska reports that none of the cats at Berenike seem to have suffered broken necks, as their mummified counterparts bred and sacrificed for ritual purposes did. Furthermore, she adds, the deliberate manner of the Berenike burials suggests a human-animal relationship beyond the religious or ritualistic.

Berenike researcher, Steven Sidebotham, of the University of Delaware, notes that Berenike's remote location makes the discovery of this pet cemetery unique because in spite of "the very rough circumstances in which these people are living, they still manage to find the time and effort to have companion animals with them."

All photos by S.E. Sidebotham via USA Today.

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Discovery of 2,000-Year-Old Pet Cemetery Shows Ancient Egyptians Loved Their Pets, Too