Prehistoric companion species

Posted on Mar 1, 2011 in Animals & Plants & Stuff

One of my favourite undergraduate courses was Andrzej Weber‘s mortuary archaeology class, and if I were an undergrad at U of A today, I would definitely take Robert Losey‘s archaeology of dogs course–and not just because his recent excavations at Lake Baikal bring these two interests together in fascinating ways.

Prehistoric Dog Lived, Died Among Humans

“Burial remains of a dog that lived over 7,000 years ago in Siberia suggest the male Husky-like animal probably lived and died similar to how humans did at that time and place, eating the same food, sustaining work injuries, and getting a human-like burial. ‘Based on how northern indigenous people understand animals in historic times, I think the people burying this particular dog saw it as a thinking, social being, perhaps on par with humans in many ways…I think the act of treating it as a human upon its death indicates that people knew it had a soul, and that the mortuary rites it received were meant to ensure that this soul was properly cared for’…Just like the humans in the cemetery, the dog was buried with other items, (such as) a long spoon made of antler,’ Losey said.

The dog was carefully laid to rest lying on his right side in a grave pit that, at other levels, also contained five partial human skeletons. DNA and stable isotope analysis determined the animal was indeed a dog and that he ate exactly what humans at the site consumed: fish, freshwater seal meat, deer, small mammals, and some plant foods. The canine’s life, as well as that of the people, wasn’t easy, though.

‘The dog’s skeleton, particularly its vertebrate spines, suggests that it was repeatedly used to transport loads,’ Losey explained. ‘This could have included carrying gear on its back that was used in daily activities like hunting, fishing, and gathering plant foods and firewood. The dog also could have been used to transport gear for the purposes of relocating settlements on a seasonal basis.’ Additional fractures suggest the dog suffered numerous blows during its lifetime, possibly from the feet of red deer during hunting outings. The researchers cannot rule out that humans hit the dog, but its older age at burial, food provisions, and more suggest otherwise.”

(via Lisa Monahan)