Previously, it was thought that people in ancient times usually only had animals to help humans do jobs.

By Austin Cannon
March 19, 2021
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cat at Egyptian temple
Credit: Sandra Vieira / EyeEm / Getty

The oldest recorded pet cemetery—some 2,000 years old—has been discovered in Egypt, according to Polish researchers.

On the coast of the Red Sea in southwest Egypt, the researchers say the giant burial ground provides evidence that people in the ancient world did, in fact, treat some animals as pets instead of as utilitarian animals who did jobs. 

"The fundamental conclusion is a noticeable desire of human beings to be in the company of animals, resulting not only from their functional or economic benefits," the study reads.

According to the study, which was published in World Archeology, archaeologists examined the site, located at the ancient port of Berenice from 2011–2020. They discovered 585 bodies clearly identified as animals, but there were plenty of additional remains the scientists couldn't identify, indicating many more animals were buried there. (No humans, though, which researchers said made it an outlier.)

More than 91 percent of the identifiable animals are domestic cats, scientists said. Just over 5 percent are dogs while 2.7 percent are monkeys. Archaeologists also found one Barbary falcon, one Rüppell's fox, and two macaques, which are another kind of primate. 

The project's lead researcher Marta Osypińska, a zooarchaeologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences, told Live Science that there were no signs that the animals had been killed by people—which has been evident at other sites. In fact, the animals were all "carefully buried," some wrapped in blankets or next to shells or other mementos.

The study was also able to determine the ages of some of the animals, along with their sexes and whether they suffered from specific diseases—which, evidently, their humans cared for. The scientists could even tell that some of the animals had eaten fish. 

Meanwhile, the study added that the smaller dogs and macaques have no real service value. It seemed evident that these animals were likely just human companions when they were alive. 

"We think that in Berenice the animals were not sacrifices to the gods, but just pets," Osypińska told Live Science.