In our travels we sometimes meet people who say they don’t think we (or anyone else) should travel with pets. Their reasoning varies from “pets are dirty,” to “pets are disruptive,” and even a general dislike for pets accompanied by a wish that “all public spaces were free of them.” It seems crazy to me, having had dogs my whole life. My philosophy couldn’t be more opposite: that pets should be a part of everything we do. Thanks to this guest post from Ashely Warner, I have evidence that people have felt the same as I do, pretty much forever.
Everyone who lives with a pet knows how much an important part of our lives he or she becomes. However, some people may wonder — was it always this way? We know that human beings have had pets since long before recorded history, but did early human beings care as much for their pets as we do now? Recent anthropological findings suggest that the answer is: yes. We have been forming friendships with animals since we could walk upright and possibly even earlier. As the evidence is unearthed, doesn’t take an online biology degree to see that animal friends have been important throughout history and prehistory.
Just how far back pets go is unknown, but the more we learn the more it becomes apparent that animals have been important to us since the dawn of civilization. Recently, the University of Cambridge led researchers in Jordan in the excavation of a grave wherein a fox was buried with a human. The grave is roughly 16,500 years old, which is 4,000 years earlier than the first known burial of a human and dog together. The stunned Cambridge team could only surmise that the double burial means that the buried man cared for the fox enough to want to bring him along into the afterlife. Their findings suggest that foxes may have once been a common pet, and were very important to their human friends.
As human beings traveled away from Africa, they brought with them their need for animal companions. (GoPetFriendly Note: Pet travel at it’s earliest!!) Scientists have discovered prehistoric graves with humans and dogs buried together on nearly every continent. They have been located in Germany, dating back to 14,000 years ago; in Neolithic Chinese graves dating from 7000 B.C.E. to 5800 B.C.E.; in Utah at Danger Cave, dating to 11,000 years ago and at many more sites. These graves tell us two things: that humans have always felt very deeply for their canine companions, and that prehistoric humans brought their pets along with them on all of their travels. Forming bonds with our pets is an innate instinct for us, one that has probably helped us survive as we formed cooperative partnerships with animals.
Ancient Egyptians and Romans were also deeply committed to their pets. Both peoples kept numerous animals as pets, from falcons to domesticated gazelles and even lions. Cats were prized for catching vermin and providing companionship and dogs assisted their master’s with herding, hunting, security and friendship. Rulers who were fond of hunting often brought their birds of prey and dogs with them when they visited foreign lands, while in Egypt cats often accompanied traveling priests and officials. Pets were often given endearing names similar to those given to children, and in Egypt the death of a pet (especially a cat) was often greeted with the same grief as that of a family member. The Egyptians actually reserved long expanses of land along the Nile for the burial of mummified pets.
In fifteenth century England pet ownership became positively fashionable. Lap dogs became popular with women of the court, who found them soothing and easy to travel with, and purebreds were highly valued by noblemen, royalty and even church officials. Perhaps the clergy became attached to the pets of parishioners, who often brought their pets to church for warmth and company.
Our ancient ancestors would probably never have survived without the help of our animal friends; and considering how they took their pets with them wherever they explored, this was probably something that was widely acknowledged. While the early relationship between humans and animals likely began due to mutual self-interest, we quickly learned that pets could mean more to us than the work they could do for us. They became members of the family, loved and mourned, and today we understand that as much as ever. We needed pets to survive, now we have pets because of the love and companionship they give us. Pets are more than a tradition; they are part of who we are as a species.
Author bio: Ashley Warner is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She currently resides in Washington state.
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