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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Archaeologists Find Dog Has Been Man's Best Friend for Thousands of Years

By Dan Vergano
USA Today

Pet cemeteries may seem like another one of the modern world's unneeded phenomena, like boy bands and car bras. But they actually have been around as long as man's best friend, one archaeologist says. And that may be telling us as much about people as about dogs.

"People have been burying or otherwise ritually disposing of dead dogs for a long time," writes University of Kansas anthropologist Darcy Morey in the current Journal of Archaeological Science.

Surveying thousands of dog burials at archaeological sites worldwide, Morey concludes they "are documented from every major land mass in the world except Antarctica."

Often the dogs were buried with their owners, Morey notes. The oldest known dog, dating to about 14,000 years ago in Germany, was buried with two people. In Kentucky, at Indian Knoll, more than half of the dog burials from around 5,000 years ago were with people. And at Ashkelon, in Israel, about 1,000 dogs were buried next to a human cemetery more than 2,000 years ago.

And these weren't casual burials, Morey notes. "At Ashkelon, each corpse was carefully placed in its own grave, with the dogs buried on their sides and their tails arranged to curl at the feet."

At the Anderson site in Tennessee, archaeologists found the more than 6,700-year-old fossil of an "unusually old" dog that had broken bones and arthritis, among other problems. The dog's owner must have provided long-term care for the pet.

For archaeologists, the lack of dog burials before 14,000 years ago points strongly to this as the time when dogs were first becoming domesticated, Morey says. "The deliberate burial of dogs is confined to the past 12,000 to 14,000 years. By that time, many people had begun treating dogs in death much like they treated people in death."


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