Egypt"s revered donkeys

Fiona Marshal and her international team of archaeologists were not really expecting to find donkeys while excavating a royal burial site in Egypt. For good reason. No animal has ever been found at an Egyptian burial site. But the funerary complex, overlooking the ancient town of Abydos on the Nile about 500 km south of Cairo, yielded skeletons of 10 donkeys that had been buried as if they were high-ranking officials. More importantly, the skeletons provide the first hard evidence for the earliest domestication of donkeys some 5,000 years ago.

The graves were uncovered in 2002. Marshal and her colleagues were evidently stumped by the enormity of their discovery. They reported their findings only this year in the March 11 issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We were surprised to find no humans and funerary goods, and instead 10 donkeys. The findings are not exactly the stock-in-trade of Egyptologists,' says Marshall, who is a professor of archaeology at Washington University in St Louis. The iconography of seals found in Abydos and the architectural style of the complex suggest a date close to the beginning of Egypt's Early Dynastic period, about 3000 BC, the researchers say.

Arthritic creatures
The donkeys resembled wild asses and were between 8 and 13 years of age