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Forget dogs, the now extinct fox was our first four-legged friend

by News Room
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© Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our ancestors would have kept foxes as pets long before dogs were our four-legged friends. Archeological studies show that ancient societies in South America revered foxes so much that they were buried next to the animals.

Archaeologists have discovered that a now-extinct fox was buried in a roughly 1,500-year-old human grave in Cañada Seca, Argentina. In addition to human remains, archaeologists found the bones of a dog-like animal. After genetic research, it was revealed Dusicyo’s grandfather a species of fox that became extinct about 500 years ago. The fox was roughly the size of a German shepherd and weighed 10-15 kilos.

Using carbon dating, a method of determining the age of organic material, the researchers found that the animal was a contemporary of hunter-gatherers. Ophélie Lebrasseur of the University of Oxford, one of the archaeologists behind the study, says there are no signs that the fox was eaten. The condition of the bones also shows that the animal was actually buried.

The most likely explanation for this is that the fox was a prized pet of hunter-gatherers. “Either it was a symbolic animal for the community or it was buried when it died with its owners or with people with whom it had a certain relationship,” says Ophélie Lebrasseur.

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Fossil remains of Dusicyon Avus found© Royal Society Open Science

Archaeologists also study the fox’s diet using isotopic analysis of the bones. This indicated that the animal had a diet similar to that of hunter-gatherers. Usually such animals are carnivores, but this fox also ate plants. “Either people feed him directly or he feeds on garbage, but he must have been close to this place.”

Several years ago, another fox of the same species was found in a much older grave in another part of Argentina. The study also concluded that the fox could have been a human pet. The latest studies confirm the previous findings.

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