Humans domesticated animals way earlier than we thought – about 13,000 years ago at least.

Science News reports on the discovery of charred dung in Syria that has rewritten history, pushing back the date of the oldest domesticated animals by 2,000 years:

“We know today that dung fuel is a valuable resource, but it hasn’t really been documented prior to the Neolithic,” says Alexia Smith, an archaeobotanist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs….

Smith and her colleagues reexamined 43 plant samples taken in the 1970s from a residential dwelling at Abu Hureyra, an archaeological site now lost under the Tabqa Dam reservoir. The samples date from roughly 13,300 to 7,800 years ago, spanning the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to farming and herding.

Throughout the samples, the researchers found varying amounts of spherulites, tiny crystals that form in the intestines of animals and are deposited in dung. There was a noticeable uptick between 12,800 and 12,300 years ago, when darkened spherulites also appeared in a fire pit — evidence they were heated to between 500⁰ and 700⁰ Celsius, and probably burned.

The team then cross-referenced these findings against previously published data from Abu Hureyra. It found that the dung burning coincided with a shift from circular to linear buildings, an indication of a more sedentary lifestyle, along with steadily rising numbers of wild sheep at the site and a decline in gazelle and other small game. Combined, the authors argue, these findings suggest humans may have started tending animals outside their homes and were burning the piles of dung at hand as a supplement to wood.

You can read more of Smith’s research here, in PLOS One.