Archeologists working on the site of Berenike on the Red Sea coast of southern Egypt unearthed a 2-thousand-year old animal burial site which contains skeletons of more than 100 domestic animals mostly of cats, dogs, and monkeys.
The cemetery which dates back to 285-246 B.C. was established in Ptolemaic Egypt is different to the graveyards of mummified cats that were relatively common in Pharaonic Egypt. They are also different from the dog graveyard found in the Roman empire.
None of the remains contained any symbolic or religious items rather everyday accessories were preserved. Two young cats were found, each with a single ostrich egg-shell bead by their necks. Another three cats and a monkey were buried with their iron collars.
There are also double burials of cats, which included an older and a younger pet.
In her paper on the discoveries, Marta Osypińska characterizes Egypt as one of the most significant places where cats were first domesticated.
The next most common species recorded in the burial ground is that of dogs (nine), and at least two types of monkey: three grivets and one olive baboon.
Osypińska concludes that these animals were all likely pets due to the lack of disease and the lack of evidence of the intentional killing. "On the basis of this type of burial, the absence of mummification, the diverse species list, and the absence of human inhumations," she writes, "it is suggested that the Berenike cemetery [...] should be interpreted as a cemetery of house pets rather than deposits related to sacred or magical rites."
But it wasn’t just cats; the Egyptians kept some pets that seem bizarre, impractical or impossible to our present-day susceptibilities. In addition to cats and dogs, they were also fond of keeping falcons and hippos as pets.
Berenike researcher, Steven Sidebotham, of the University of Delaware, notes that Berenike’s remote location makes this pet cemetery unique because, in spite of “the very rough circumstances in which these people used to live, they still managed to find the time and effort to have companion animals with them.”
Considering the modern day stance of many people towards animals particularly cats and dogs, the way animals today are tortured, mutilated and dishonored while living and after death, it’s phenomenal and astounding to see how people two-thousand-years ago treated their animal companions.