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25 May 2013
New insights on prehistoric dog burials

Analysis of ancient dog burials finds that the typical prehistoric dog owner ate a lot of fish, had spiritual beliefs, and wore jewellery. The study is one of the first to directly test if there was a clear relationship between the practice of dog burial and human behaviours.
     "Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods, because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries," says lead author Robert Losey, an anthropologist at the University of Alberta (Canada).
     The discovery negates speculation that dogs back were just work animals brought along on hunting trips. "If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals," Losey continued. "Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions."
     Losey and his team researched dog burials worldwide, but focused particularly on ones in Eastern Siberia. The earliest known domesticated dog found there dates to 33,000 years ago.
     Dog burials in the region span a 10,000-year period. Most occurred during the Early Neolithic, 7000 to 8000 years ago. Dogs were only buried when human hunter-gatherers were also being buried. All of the hunter-gatherer dogs were similar to modern Siberian huskies. Later pastoralists did not bury dogs, though they did occasionally sacrifice them. "I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves, even at a spiritual level," Losey said. "People came to know them as unique, special individuals."
     The burials reflect that association. One dog was laid to rest "much like it is sleeping." A man was buried with two dogs, one carefully placed to the left of his body, and the other to the right. A dog was buried with a round pebble, possibly a toy or meaningful symbol, placed in its mouth. Other dogs were buried with ornaments, and implements such as spoons and stone knives. One of the most interesting burials contains a dog wearing a necklace made with four pendant red-deer teeth. Such necklaces appear to have been a trend at the time, since people wore them as well.

Edited from Discovery News (22 May 2013)

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