Now We Know When Humans Started Keeping Animals As Pets

For those of us who have pets, we know that our animal companions add so much love and joy to our lives. How did that all start? When did we, as humans, decide to domesticate animals — not for food or farm work, but for companionship? In a recent article, the Smithsonian shared some of the research that connects the furry and four-legged with humans over the last several thousands of years.

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Greger Larson is the director of the University of Oxford’s palaeogenomics and bio-archeology research network and is leading a major project researching the origins of dogs. He draws a distinction between domesticated animals and pets describing domesticated animals as animals tamed and kept by humans for work or food, and pets as tamed animals kept for pleasure. His research suggests that humans have been taming and keeping pets for thousands of years, and while he is sure that dogs were definitely one of the first domesticated animals, no one is really certain if they were the first pet.

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Some of the archeological evidence suggests that dogs and cats have held a special place in human history. Dogs and cats were buried alongside humans as long as 12,000 years ago, and 8,000 years ago dogs were buried with “high-value items” — their favorite toys, perhaps?

Larson’s data also shows that dogs were living alongside humans, possibly as pets, 16,000 years ago in Europe, and 14,000 years ago in Asia. And while that is an amazingly long time, another scientist working on Larson’s project has published data showing that a 32,000-year-old “canine-like skull” was found in Belgium. Mietje Germonpre’s discovery of an ancient dog-like skull suggests the possibility that dogs have been around far longer than we thought.

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Humans and dogs (and cats) have a long history of companionship. And why there are still many questions surrounding our relationship history, every archeological and biological clue uncovered gives us a little more insight. Who knows what the future may hold for humans and their pets, but we’re pretty sure that we are gonna be BFF’s forever.


Main image credit: HBO