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Planet Earth

Prehistoric Pet

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When Louis Chaix first saw this 6,000-year-old bear jaw, he was struck by the strange indentation between its molars. Chaix, an archeozoologist at the Museum of Natural History in Geneva, was asked to examine the jaw after it was unearthed from a rock shelter in Isere, France, near Grenoble. The groove in the jaw suggests that humans once held the brown bear captive with a wood or leather thong that was fastened around its lower jaw when the animal was just a few months old. Why they may have kept the bear is a mystery. At the time, the people of this region were hunter-gatherers who speared wild boar and red deer. Since the bear was no older than seven when it died, Chaix thinks that it may have been sacrificed in some ritual, perhaps one similar to those involving sacrificial bears conducted by some medieval Swedes or by the Ainu of the island of Sakhalin near Japan. The find suggests a new type of interaction between humans and animals in this era, says Chaix. "The other relationships that I know for this period are just predatory, just hunting. And this suggests that there were maybe some religious relationships between man and animals during this old time."

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