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Ancient Roman Well

Sacred Roman Well with Evidence of Dog Sacrifice Uncovered

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Archaeologists in Portsmouth, UK, have discovered a Roman well buried just a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant. The well was filled with coins, a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, Roman god of the sea, and eight dog skeletons. Experts believe the dogs were dropped down the well as a sacrifice to the gods.

Dr Andy Russel from Southampton Archaeology Unit said that it is the first time that evidence of dog sacrifice has been found in Portsmouth. “I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before – it’s intriguing,” he said.

The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight.

While it is the first discovery of its kind in the region, evidence of dog sacrifice dating back to ancient times is quite common and it took many ritual forms, although two general categories of symbolism can be identified.

The first connects the rites of animal sacrifice to gods relating to procreation and development (Mazzorin & Minniti, 2002). In the area of Kolonos Agoraios in Athens, in a well deposit dated to the 2 nd century BC, the bones of 450 infants and 150 dogs were found. The association of the dogs and babies in the well has been interpreted as evidence of rites of purification associated with childbirth.   In Ancient Greece one of the rites of passage involving dog sacrifice, was in honour the earth goddess who watched over birth. This ritual is documented in Italy by the bones of dogs found together with ceramic shards dating to the late 4 th  century BC found in the well of a temple at Pyrgi, which was identified with goddesses associated with the concept of birth and development.

The second form appears to take its origins from the everyday role of dogs in human life as faithful companions and guardians of precious possessions (Mazzorin & Minniti, 2002). There has been a multitude of tomb findings in which the remains of a dog were found next to or near a buried individual, suggesting that the dog was killed in order to be buried alongside its owner.  Dogs were often connected with the Underworld and were assumed to belong to both the land of the living and the land of the dead (Sergis). In the mythology of ancient Greece dogs played a part in three important phases of man’s relationship with death: the passage from life to death; the time spent in the Underworld; and the return to life as a spirit.

Archaeologists in Portsmouth are working to uncover more of the mysteries of the ancient Roman well and why the dogs were sacrificed there, perhaps linking the well to the worship of a particular god or goddess.

By April Holloway

References

De Grossi Mazzorin, J. & Minniti, C. (2002). Dog Sacrifice in the Ancient World: A Ritual Passage? Dogs and People in Social, Working, Economic or Symbol Interaction , pp 62-66.

Sergis. Dog Sacrifice in Ancient and Modern Greece: From the Sacrifice Ritual to Dog Torture. Available from: http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol45/sergis.pdf

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