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European badger (Meles meles)

Stone Age Spaniards ate domestic dogs and badgers

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Human bite marks on the fossilized bones of domestic dogs and wild cats, foxes and badgers show people in Spain thousands of years ago ate carnivorous animals if they became hungry enough. Archaeologists found the bones of 24 processed animals in el Mirador Cave in Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain.

Other evidence people ate the animals include cut marks, bone breakage and signs of what the abstract of the Quaternary International article at ScienceDirect calls culinary processing, including boiling.

The people may also have used the animals for their skins.

The lead researcher at the cave, Patricia Martin, says people ate the animals between the Neolithic of 7,200 years ago and the Bronze Age of 3,100 years ago. She said consumption of these carnivores in Europe was limited then.

Dog radius fragment with cut marks from el Mirador Cave

Dog radius fragment with cut marks from el Mirador Cave (IPHES photo)

The practice of eating the small carnivores may have been associated with sporadic famine and shortage. “It’s one of the possibilities,” says Martin of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution. She added that in some Asian cultures and among the Berbers “considered dog meat as a rich source of protein and/or as a delicatessen meat. It cannot be excluded that in some cases the objective was to obtain the skin of these animals.”

Evidence of limited consumption of these animals exists around the world. Last year, the remains of dogs and wolves were found at the Srubnaya-culture settlement of Krasnosamarskoe in the Russian steppes, dating back to 1900–1700 BC. Due to the small quantity of these bones relative to bones of other animals found at the site, it was not thought that dog and wolf meat was being used as a normal food source. It indicated that a ritual took place there in which the participants ate sacrificed dogs and wolves.

Another recent study has reaffirmed the use of dogs as food in Mesoamerica by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, where some of the domesticated dogs were fattened up with a diet of maize. But it was the Spanish conquistadors that really had a hunger for the indigenous hairless dog. When they arrived on the scene they “nearly ate the xoloitzcuintli into oblivion, says archaeologist Marc Thompson, director of the Tijeras Pueblo Museum,” reported a 2017 National Geographic article.

European red fox

European red fox (Marie Hale photo/Flickr)

El Mirador was used as a cave to shelter flocks of sheep and cattle. The domesticated animals were the main basis of the diet, the researchers said, but other species, including the small carnivores mentioned, were also eaten.

In some Mediterranean islands, including Cyprus, eating of some of these species is recorded as early as the Neolithic but it was rare in continental Europe.

“In El Mirador Cave, the dogs were disarticulated, defleshed and boiled,” says Martin.

It seems the species of carnivore eaten most was dogs, mainly during the Neolithic.

“Given the difficulty of hunting wild carnivores and the exceptional nature of their use in this site, the probability that these animals had been accidentally captured and subsequently consumed arises,” says the IPHES news blog. “‘However, neither it’s possible to reject the option of being used as an extra source of food in times of shortage,’ says Patricia Martin.”

She told the Telegraph: “This is some of the oldest evidence documented either in the Iberian Peninsula or in Europe as a whole, and it's the first time human tooth marks are used to confirm the human consumption of these carnivores. Dog consumption is sporadic but occurs repeatedly in time, whereas the consumption of small wild carnivores is more limited in time.”

Modern researchers consider the Stone Age diet overall to be healthy.

“Modern studies on ancient tribes who continue to eat a Stone Age (Paleolithic) diet show that these people do not suffer from diabetes, obesity, heart disease or cancer. If they can survive the ravages of the cold, infectious diseases, childbirth and war wounds, then these people live healthily to a great age,” says

Top Image: European badger (Meles meles) in Ähtäri Zoo (Kallerna photo/Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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