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11 February 2011
The earliest cemetery in the Middle East?

Until now it was believed that the oldest known cemetery in the Middle East was 15,000 to 12,000 years old, but anthropologists from the University of Toronto (Canada) and Cambridge University (UK) have discovered an older site, dating back 16,500 years, at Uyun al-Hammam in the nothern part of Jordan.
     Remains at the 'younger' Nastufian site, in Ramallah, included burials with dogs alongside the human remains. But it would seem that this practice of burying pets with their owners is even older. The Uyun al-Hammam cemetery has several examples of other animal parts, stone tools etc. One of the most interesting of these is the case of the red fox. The link between the human and the fox must have been quite significant as, even when a grave had been re-opened in prehistoric times & the body removed, the remains of a red fox had also been removed and re-buried alongside at the new location.
     But other animal parts were also found. Professor Banning, the expedition leader, is quoted as saying "These were unusually dense and diverse concentrations of bones, and indicate very early mortuary practices that involved interring selected animal remains with humans. The site has implications both for our understanding of the development of ideas about death and mortuary practice, and for our understanding of the beginnings of domesticationof dog-like animals".
     A paper detailing the findings has been published in the online journal PloS One, entitled 'A Unique Human-Fox Burial from a Pre-Natufian Cemetery in the Levant (Jordan)'

Edited from University of Toronto (2 February 2011)

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