Discovery of Aztec dog cemetery puzzles archaeologists
Archaeologists have discovered “an exceptional” Aztec burial site under an apartment building in Mexico City containing the remains of twelve dogs , animals that had major religious and symbolic significance to the Aztecs. Researchers have been left puzzled by the finding, which is the first time dogs have been found buried together at one site. What’s more, they appear unconnected to human burials and do not appear to have been used as offerings as part of a sacrificial ceremony.
In Aztec culture, dogs had a ritual importance in death and burial rites. According to some pre-Hispanic beliefs, a dog accompanied his owner in the underworld and would guide the human soul into a new life after death. Among the Aztecs, the god Xolotl was the canine companion of the Sun, following its path through both the sky and the underworld.
Previously, the remains of dogs have been found accompanying human remains or as part of offering. It is also common to find them buried underneath pyramids or other important buildings as it was believed that dogs would guard the monuments they were buried underneath. But the latest finding has not uncovered traces of any building nearby, nor were they found buried alongside human remains.
“Burials of dogs have been found in archaeological contexts, but in this case, it is not associated with any construction or a human burial. Without a doubt this is a special find, by the number of individuals and we have not found a link with a building or a deceased person,” said archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez.
The dogs were buried at around the same time in a small pit between 1350 a 1520 AD, the peak of the Aztec empire.
"This is not the first time a burial of a dog has been found, but it is the first find where many dogs were carefully buried together, in a setting that is like a cemetery," said Michael E. Smith, an anthropology professor at Arizona State University.
Sanchez explained that the research team will be digging deeper to find out if any evidence exists to aid interpretation. The dog skeletons will also be analysed to ascertain the cause of death, and whether they suffered from any disease or malformation.
Featured image: Dog skeletons uncovered in Mexico City. Photo credit: Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)
Watch the video of the discovery (narration is in Spanish).