Analysis of elite pet skeletons paints traumatic picture


The skeleton of a wild cat, from the ancient Egyptian cemetery of Hierakonpolis, shows healed fractures. 

June is National Pet Adoption Month. And while a new home can be traumatic for a pet, compared with ancient Egypt, well, we’ve come a long way, baby.

A study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology on March 24 revealed the physical violence inflicted on wild animals captured by the elite and used as pets.

The remains of these wild pets, broken bones and all, were unearthed in the pre-dynastic cemetery HK6 at Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, dated over 5,000 years ago.

These “elite pets” were displayed and later buried with their owners to signal the owner’s wealth and power. Additionally, the type of pet you had communicated the type of power you had, e.g., an elephant was a symbol of strength. 

Unlike other pre-dynastic graveyards, at least 20 of the 38 pets interred in HK6 showed signs of healed fractures resulting from violent blows and tethering. The targets for the violence included 15 baboons, a jungle cat, a leopard, a hippo, an ox, and an antelope.

Wim Van Neer, who holds a doctorate in science and is a zooarchaeologist at the Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, believes the large number of broken hand and foot bones (40+) on the baboons was too extensive to be a result of capture, reported National Geographic. Violent blows probably explained the majority of the fractures.

Capturing and holding wild animals was dangerous work. This, the researchers explain, may have been the reason for the violence. Animal management practices were, well, unsophisticated, to say the least.

Photo courtesy of Hierakonpolis Expedition, London

NEWStat Advancements & research News