London, Jan 28 (IANS) Dogs have long been known as man's best friend. But according to a new research, primitive man seemingly preferred the company of foxes rather than dogs.
Researchers have uncovered a pre-historic graveyard in which a fox was buried with a human, dating thousands of years before man kept dogs as pets.
The team led by the University of Cambridge believes that the discovery points to some kind of emotional link between human and vulpine, reports the journal Public Library of Science ONE.
Their research suggests that fox may have been kept as a pet and was being buried to accompany its master, or mistress, to the afterlife, according to the Daily Mail.
Significantly, Erwin Rommel, the legendary field marshal, nicknamed the Desert Fox, also kept a fox as a pet during the initial years of the North African campaign in the 1940s.
The cemetery at Uyun-al-Hammam in northern Jordan is about 16,500-years old, which makes the grave 4,000-years older than the earliest known human-dog burial.
However, researchers say it is unlikely foxes were ever fully domesticated and, despite their early head start, humans took to the more companionable dog later.
Studies carried out on foxes suggest that they can be brought under human control, but that the process is not easy because they are skittish and timid - so perhaps for that reason, the researchers suggest, dogs ultimately achieved 'best friend' status among humans instead.
'The burial site provides intriguing evidence of a relationship between humans and foxes which predates any comparable example of animal domestication,' said Lisa Maher from Cambridge's Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies.