Butchered Dogs Consumed by Bronze Age Wolf Warriors in Rites Ceremonies
Archaeologists claim that remains of dogs and wolves found at the Srubnaya-culture settlement of Krasnosamarskoe in the Russian steppes, dating back to 1900–1700 BC, indicate that a ritual took place there in which the participants ate sacrificed dogs and wolves.
The Obsession of Teenage Warrior Bands with Dogs and Wolves
Researchers suggest that the peculiar finds could possibly provide the first archaeological evidence of war bands made up of male teenagers as they are described in ancient texts. David Anthony and Dorcas Brown, both of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., speculate that chosen young males of the Srubnaya, or Timber Grave culture joined youth war bands in winter rites, where they “spiritually” transformed to dogs and wolves by consuming canine flesh. As Science News reports, such initiation ceremonies correlate with myths mentioned in texts from as early as 2,000 years ago by speakers of Indo-European languages across Eurasia.
Man with wolf skin headdress (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The specific myths connect dogs and wolves to teenage bands of warriors. According to some ancient reports, the teenage warriors were “self-baptized” with names containing words for dogs or wolves, dressed with dog or wolf skins, while in rare cases, they would even consume the flesh of dogs during initiation ceremonies. However, the legendary themes involving dogs from 2,000 years ago appear to be somewhat different to the rites practiced 4,000 years ago as Anthony tells Science News, “We should look at myths across Eurasia to understand this archaeological site.”
What Evidence Prompted these Conclusions?
Excavations at Krasnosamarskoe in 1999 and 2001 totaled a whopping 2,770 dog bones, eighteen wolf bones and six more bones that came from either dogs or wolves as Science News reported. Those finds represent more than one-third of all animal bones uncovered at the site. Researchers David Anthony and Dorcas Brown stated that dogs, however, account for more or less three percent of all animal bones previously excavated at each of six other Srubnaya settlements, so they have concluded that canines were not usually consumed and could have possibly been seen as a banned food for humans in the wider area.
Yet, the dogs and wolves found at Krasnosamarskoe site had been roasted, fileted and chopped into bite-sized, 1 to 3-inch pieces; enough evidence for one to hypothesize that they were most likely cooked and eaten. Additionally, it was noticed that the canids were killed mostly during winter, based on microscopic analysis of growth lines in their teeth formed annually during warm and cold seasons. Most of the dogs were old, between six and twelve years, and in good health before they were sacrificed.
Crucial evidence is of the dogs being butchered into small pieces. Dogs’ heads were commonly chopped in pieces designated by lines on this skull. Image: D. Anthony and D. Brown/ Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 2017
Debate Between Researchers
A fair number of researchers are not convinced by Anthony and Brown’s explanation though, as they can’t understand why at least sixty-four dogs and wolves were sacrificed at the Krasnosamarskoe settlement. “Archaeologists can weave mythology and prehistory together, but only with extreme caution,” says archaeologist Marc Vander Linden of University College London as Science News reports. And continued, “Indo-European mythology suggests that Late Bronze Age folks regarded dogs as having magical properties and perhaps ate them in rituals of some kind. But no other archaeological sites have yielded evidence for teenage male war bands or canine-consuming initiation rites,” he concludes, raising an argument about the pair’s suggested theory.
Canis dirus Leidy, 1858 - fossil dire wolf skeleton from the Pleistocene of North America. (CC BY 2.0)
Furthermore, archaeologist Paul Garwood of the University of Birmingham in England, proposes that some Indo-European peoples described dogs possessing healing powers and absorbing illness from people, a fact that would make them “too sacred” for consumption. Garwood goes a step further suggesting that ritual specialists at Krasnosamarskoe perhaps would sacrifice dogs and wolves as part of healing ceremonies but without consuming the animals as Anthony and Brown claimed.
Anthony and Brown Insist
The different opinions and views from their fellow respected scientists, didn’t seem to discourage the views of Anthony and Brown. According to Anthony who responded to Garwood, both dogs and wolves were linked to war bands and initiation rites at the Russian site but not healing, as some Indo-European groups might have associated them with. Interestingly, Michael Witzel, an expert on ancient texts of India and comparative mythology at Harvard University, seems to agree with Anthony and Brown. “They identified the first archaeological evidence in support of ancient Indo-European myths about young, warlike ‘wolf-men’ who lived outside of society’s laws,” he says as Science News reports.
Gray wolves by a stripped animal carcass (CC BY 2.0)
Ultimately, excavation works in a Srubnaya cemetery at the Russian site unearthed bones of two men, two women, an adult of undetermined gender and twenty-two youngsters between the ages of one and seven. The researchers suggest that the two male bodies found had clear signs of wear and tear especially on their knees, ankles and lower backs. Anthony proposes that the two men were most likely ritual specialists as he told Science News, “These men would have directed initiation ceremonies into war bands,” adding that further exploration at the region will definitely put more evidence “on the table” as possible sources of information.
Top image: A pair of dogs/wolves and the moon (Public Domain)