Man’s best friend… until the BITTER end: 4,000 year-old bones of 26 dogs that may have been SACRIFICED are found alongside ‘their owners’ in chilling Spanish burial site
- Dogs aged between one month and six years old were buried alongside ‘owners’
- At this time humans had started herding animals and living in mud brick homes
- The find suggests long and enduring relationship between humans and dogs
Skeletons of more than two dozen dogs that were buried alongside their ‘owners’ more than 4,000 years ago have been discovered in Spain.
Archaeologists found circular graves with the remains of 26 dogs aged between one month and six years old.
Researchers were looking for evidence of stone age societies and found the canines buried nearby or directly alongside their believed owners.
The find could suggest a long relationship between humans and man’s best friend. But there is also possible evidence that some of the dogs were sacrificed after their owners died, as some are less than a year old and one is just a month old.
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The dogs were found in circular pit graves at four sites in Barcelona buried with or nearby their ‘owners’. They were aged between one month and six years old
The study, led by Dr Silvia Albizuri who is a zooarchaeologist at the University of Barcelona, extracted isotopes from the bones to better understand the relationship between the dogs and humans.
The prehistoric pets are the same size as their modern-day equivalents, up to 20 inches tall (50 cm), suggesting they were well looked after.
Writing in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers said this meant the dogs and humans had the same diet; a mixture of cereals such as corn and wheat, vegetables and meat.
Dr Albizuri said: ‘It proves the tight relationship between humans and these animals, which, apart from being buried next to them, were fed a similar diet to humans.’
Co-author Dr Eulalia Subira, also a biological anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said: ‘They would probably do so to obtain better control of their tasks on security and to save the time they would have to spend looking for food.
‘This management would explain the homogeneity of the size of the animals.’
The dogs were identified from their bones (shown above). They were living with humans at a time when people had started domesticating animals and living in mud brick homes. The prehistoric pets are the same size as their modern-day equivalents, up to 20 inches tall
There is also possible evidence that some of the dogs were sacrificed, as some are less than a year old and one is just a month old.
Dr Albizuri said: ‘Although we can think it was for human consumption, the fact these were buried near humans suggests there was an intention and a direct relation with death and the funerary ritual.
‘This hypothesis is consistent, in addition, with the fact they are found in an area of cultural influence.
‘The high amount of cases that are recorded in Catalonia suggests it was a general practice.’
Researchers were looking for evidence of stone age societies and found the canines buried nearby or directly alongside their believed owners. The bones showed no fracture marks or signs that they had been killed by predators
There is evidence dogs had been given a symbolic value during the period across Spain, Southern France and Northern Italy.
The dogs all belonged to members of a nomadic people known as the Yamnaya Culture, or Pit Grave Culture.
These tribes swept into Europe from the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas. They kept cattle for milk production and sheep.
The buried dogs aren’t the oldest found in a human grave as a puppy was unearthed in Germany next to a human from 14,000 years ago.
Finding so many dogs in the same area indicates the practice of burying dogs with humans was widespread during the late Copper and early Bronze Age.
The researchers said: ‘It provides new data to describe and understand the presence of dogs in sacred and funerary spaces of the middle Neolithic in the Iberian Peninsula, and gets an insight on the relation between humans and these animals.’
‘They were mainly buried in circular graves, together or near the humans, although some have been found separately in nearby graves and one was found at the entrance of the mortuary chamber.’
The discovery of prehistoric dogs is rare, which means little is known about their use as domestic animals at this time.
Their presence in graves is even less – making this study exceptional.
HOW DID DOGS BECOME DOMESTICATED?
A genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains revealed that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia, around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Dr Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor in evolution at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The process of dog domestication would have been a very complex process, involving a number of generations where signature dog traits evolved gradually.
‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs likely arose passively, with a population of wolves somewhere in the world living on the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps feeding off refuse created by the humans.
‘Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.’