From Food to Friend: Prehistoric Exotic and Pampered Pets

The Fall of Man (detail) by Cornelis van Haarlem (1592) Rijksmuseum (Public Domain)

From Food to Friend: Prehistoric Exotic and Pampered Pets

Anthropologists and archaeologists are still working on compiling the human-pet timeline, but it is known pets have been adopted by humans for possibly tens of thousands of years. Americans keep about 78 million dogs, 85 million cats, 14 million birds, 12 million small mammals and nine million reptiles, according to a 2016 article by scholar Alicia Ault published in Smithsonian magazine, but when did humans first begin regarding animals as friends rather than foe or food?

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Central panel of a floor mosaic with a pet cat and two ducks. First century BC. From the triclinium of a suburban villa in the Cecchignola area. (Public Domain)

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Central panel of a floor mosaic with a pet cat and two ducks. First century BC. From the triclinium of a suburban villa in the Cecchignola area. (Public Domain)

Origins of Animal Domestication

Dr Greger Larson, director of the University of Oxford’s palaeogenomics and bio-archaeology research network, leads a major international project to determine the origins of early animal domestication and especially when and how the human-animal bond developed. According to Larson’s paper published on Palaeobarn, decades of archaeological and genetic research failed to reveal: “where and how many times dogs were domesticated” and the new project is aimed to scour the archaeological and genetic records for evidence, as the team of scientists claim the animal-human relationship contributes much to the evolution of human society.


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Ancient Origins Quotations