A bobcat kitten in Texas.
Photo by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).
CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Back in the early 1980s, archaeologists excavating a series of Native American burial mounds in western Illinois came across the skeleton of an animal that had been buried at the edge of one mound. It had been wearing a collar or necklace made of shells and bear teeth. The archaeologists thought it was a puppy. They were wrong.
It was actually a young bobcat, only four to seven months old, and it had been carefully buried by members of the Hopewell culture some two thousand years ago. The correct identification was only made in 2011, when another researcher took a fresh look at the bones and realized this was something special.
It was special, first, because the Hopewell people (hunter-gatherers who flourished in east-central North America from roughly 200 BC to AD 500) didn’t usually bury animals in those mounds. This is the only known example of an animal buried in this type of mound. Second, this is “the only decorated wild cat burial in the archaeological record.”
In all of archaeology, this little bobcat with its collar is the only wild cat known to have been given such a ceremonial burial.
Was the bobcat a pet—or something else?
Now we have a question: Was this bobcat someone’s beloved pet?
It’s certainly possible. Perhaps a villager found the kitten orphaned or otherwise alone, helpless, and took it in to tame it. Just look at the picture at the top of this post and tell me, how could you not love a face like that?
Or perhaps the cat was something else. Perhaps it was revered as a symbolic, spiritual connection to nature.
Different researchers have their ideas, but the truth is, we may never know for sure. What we do know is that the bobcat was carefully buried and there were no signs of trauma on the skeleton. That means the kitten wasn’t sacrificed. Someone cared about it, and that’s good to know.
The study on the bobcat burial was recently published in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology.