A 2,000-year-old collar-wearing bobcat that was buried in a sacred site alongside a group of Hopewell Native Americans in Illinois was most likely viewed as a beloved, though highly unusual, pet, according to a study published last week by Dr. Angela Perri in the Midcontinental Journal of Archeology.
According to Nature World News, no other wildcat
has been buried alongside humans in the entire archaeological record. This bobcat was buried with its paws respectfully placed together and wearing a necklace composed of bear teeth and marine animals. It was estimated to be about four to seven months old at the time of its burial.
“It’s surprising and marvelous and extremely special,” said Melinda Zeder, a zooarchaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, according to Science magazine.
Although Zeder was not involved in the study herself, she told Science magazine that it is unclear whether or not the bobcat was a pet or a revered and spiritually-significant animal.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in almost 70 excavated mounds,” said Kenneth Farnsworth, a Hopewell expert at the Illinois State Archeological Survey. “Somebody important must have convinced other members of the society that [the burial] must be done. I’d give anything to know why.”
When the remains were first hurriedly excavated in the 1980s before the impending arrival of a highway project, the bobcat was labeled as a “puppy burial” and set aside. When Perri researched the remains and opened the box in 2011, she could tell immediately from looking at the skull that it was not a puppy, according to the Daily Mail
The bobcat’s unusual burial indicates that it “had a very special place in the life of these people,” Perri said, according to Science.
“This is the closest you can get to finding taming in the archaeological record,” Perri said. “They saw the potential of this animal to go beyond wild.”
Although many questions about the bobcat still remain, no further work may be possible because the museum that housed the bones is facing a shutdown because of state budget cuts, according to Science magazine. The museum’s staff and other public groups are seeking to stop the closure.
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