Because they are of little interest economically, the carnivore mammals provide especially favourable characteristics for the archaeological study of the social and symbolic aspects of domestication in the early Neolithic periods. A short review of available data on the beginnings of the domestication of the dog, the cat and other carnivores, mainly in the Near East, allows us to ask questions about the conditions of their domestication. Recent discoveries from the Preceramic Neolithic of Cyprus shed new light on these questions. They confirm that dog (Canis familiaris), fox (Vulpes vulpes) and cat (Felis s. lybica) were voluntarily brought to the island, and that this took place during the second half of the 9th millennium, the first half and the second half of the 8th millennium, respectively. This introduction suggests taming and appropriation of the animals by the human beings. A burial associating a human and a cat even suggests that these animals were kept as pets. But an important proportion of the bone remains of the three carnivores indicate that people did eat them. Moreover, several clues suggest that all or a part of these animals escaped human control and lived in feral groups. It seems that few dogs or none at all lived in the immediate vicinity of human dwellings. These observations, which conflict with our modern occidental conventions, suggest, for these early Neolithic phases, that the boundary between domestic and wild was fine and variable.
Carnivores, dog, cat, fox, Neolithic, PPNB, Near East, Cyprus, animal burial, cynophagy.