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Representational image of a male Siberian Husky with Two Blue Eyes. Photo taken at Yosemite National Park, California, USA.

Researcher Presents Evidence for Cherished Role of Prehistoric Dogs in the Siberian Arctic

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Dogs have been accorded that final, most honorable memorial of burial ever since humans have kept the loyal animal, even more than other domesticated animals like cats and horses, a researcher says.

Archaeology reports that Robert Losey, an anthropologist with the University of Alberta, has studied dog burials from 5,000 to 8,000 years ago and is now excavating and analyzing remains from prehistoric dog burials in the Siberian Arctic.

Dr. Losey says of his research:

“The dogs were being treated just like people when they died. They were being carefully placed in the grave. Some of them were wearing necklaces when they were buried, some of them were—they placed spoons and other offerings in the grave with the dog. The idea, I think, being they had souls and an afterlife. People loved them so they treated them like human persons when they passed away. Dogs seem to have a very special place in human communities in the past. As soon as we see, in the archaeological record, skeletal remains that look like a modern dog, we see dogs being buried 14,000 years ago.”

An example of a dog burial.

An example of a dog burial. ( Robert Losey )

Dr. Losey started doing canine archaeology in Siberia near Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, 12 or 13 years ago. He said much of the research by other scholars has been on when dogs emerged and descended from their ancestors the wolves.

 “I’m more interested in what can we learn about people’s relationships with dogs in the past and learn more about our own relationships with dogs,” he says in a video from the university’s news service. “What was its life like? That’s more interesting to me. Was it accompanying people when hunting, was it carrying packs? Was it loved, was it abused? These questions are more interesting than just when and where it emerged.”

His research on Arctic dog burials shows that some of them were buried with harnesses, indicating they were sled dogs. He has also found reindeer buried with harnesses, indicating what he calls “a multi-species community.”

Furthermore, a man was found buried in the same grave as his two dogs, with one on either side. Losey told Heritage Daily :

“Globally you can see that there are more dog burials in prehistory than any other animals, including cats or horses. Dogs seem to have a very special place in human communities in the past. As soon as we see skeletal remains that look like the modern dog—say 14,000 years ago—we see dogs being buried.”

A Siberian man with his dog-team going over the ice off east cape, Siberia to a ship. (1926)

A Siberian man with his dog-team going over the ice off east cape, Siberia to a ship. (1926) ( Freshwater and Marine Image Bank )

There is also evidence that people ate their dogs, as they have done (and still do) at different times in history in various places.

Dr. Losey is also analyzing the chemical components of dog bones from the burials to see what their diet was like. He has found that dogs had largely the same diet as their human companions, including fish, which the people caught for them.

 A dog burial.

 A dog burial. ( Robert Losey/University of Alberta ) Dr. Losey is analyzing the dog bones from the burials to see what they ate.

 “Early on there's evidence to suggest people loved and cared for their dogs in much the same way we do now, but they were also working companions, involved in all of our daily tasks,” he said in a university news release .

He added that as long ago as ancient Rome people had lapdogs, a sign that people were breeding dogs for specific purposes many centuries ago.

Ancient Origins reported on recent research into the emergence of dogs that found that the origin of man’s best friend may not have been where, or when, the scientific community previously believed. The analysis of a variety of ancient canine DNA also helped researchers to create a map of the journey of the domestic dog across the world.

Peter Savolainen of Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and one of the contributors to the study’s international team, told Phys.org that while past studies also analyzed the entire nuclear genome, they failed to include samples from South East Asia – following the general belief that domesticated dogs had originated in the Middle East, Central Asia, or Europe.

This time the researchers conducted a DNA analysis using samples from more regions of the world and different time periods. They used this information to look for series of admixtures (events that occur when individuals from two or more separate species begin to interbreed). The results of their study led them to assert that domesticated dogs most likely descended from gray wolves in South East Asia, about 33,000 years ago. Furthermore, they claim that the “founder population” numbered approximately 4,600 canines.

A gray wolf.

A gray wolf. ( Gunner Ries/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Featured Image: Representational image of a male Siberian Husky with Two Blue Eyes. Photo taken at Yosemite National Park, California, USA. Source: Kazisdaman/CC BY SA 3.0

By Mark Miller

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