The skeleton of a rhesus macaque buried in a cemetery in the ancient settlement of Shahr-i Sokhta, Iran

This young rhesus macaque was buried in 2800–2200 BC in a human cemetery near the modern-day Iran–Afghanistan border. Credit: Claudia Minniti

Archaeology

A pet monkey was buried some 4,000 years ago with same rites as humans

Rhesus macaque, perhaps an elite gift, was interred with a type of pottery also found in human graves.

Modern people aren’t the first to cherish their animal companions. A monkey that died more than 4,000 years ago in the Middle East was laid to rest in a human cemetery in a type of grave used for infants, suggesting that it was a treasured pet.

The monkey was buried in the vast cemetery of Shahr-i Sokhta, an ancient city near modern-day Zabol, Iran. According to work by Claudia Minniti at the University of Salento in Lecce, Italy, and Seyed Mansour Seyed Sajjadi at the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research in Tehran, the animal was interred in a single pit, as were the infants in the cemetery. The pit contained the same type of pottery found in the cemetery’s human graves.

For Middle Easterners of that time, pet monkeys were status symbols. The buried primate — a rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) — might have been bestowed as a luxury gift and represents one of the earliest examples of a pet monkey.