Hunter-gatherer groups living in southwest Asia may have started keeping and caring for animals nearly 13,000 years ago — roughly 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Ancient plant samples extracted from present-day Syria show hints of charred dung, indicating that people were burning animal droppings by the end of the Old Stone Age, researchers report September 14 in PLOS One. The findings suggest humans were using the dung as fuel and may have started animal tending during or even before the transition to agriculture. But what animals produced the dung and the exact nature of the animal-human relationship remain unclear.
“We know today that dung fuel is a valuable resource, but it hasn’t really been documented prior to the Neolithic,” says Alexia Smith, an archaeobotanist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Smith and her colleagues reexamined 43 plant samples taken in the 1970s from a residential dwelling at Abu Hureyra, an archaeological site now lost under the Tabqa Dam reservoir. The samples date from roughly 13,300 to 7,800 years ago, spanning the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to farming and herding. [Continue reading…]