The ancient history of man and dog!
And when I say ‘man’ I am of course referring to the species.
For a couple of weeks ago Meilan Solly of The Smithsonian wrote about the relationship 4,500 years ago of man and dog.
In Neolithic times there was an important relationship, as there is today. Maybe our dogs have become more of the ‘pet’ rather than the working dog that they are assumed to be then.
But here’s the article.
Thanks to Facial Reconstruction, You Can Now Look Into the Eyes of a Neolithic Dog
The collie-sized canine was buried in a cavernous tomb on Scotland’s Orkney Islands around 2,500 B.C.
Some 4,500 years ago, a collie-sized dog with pointed ears and a long snout comparable to that of the European grey wolf roamed Scotland’s Orkney Islands. A valued member of the local Neolithic community, the canine was eventually buried alongside 23 other dogs and at least eight humans in a cavernous tomb known as the Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn.
Now, 118 years after archaeologists first chanced upon its resting place, the prized pup’s image is being reimagined. As Esther Addley reports for the Guardian, experts believe the dog is the first canine to undergo forensic facial reconstruction. Its likeness, commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and the National Museum of Scotland, is set to go on view in Orkney later this year.
“Just as they’re treasured pets today, dogs clearly had an important place in Neolithic Orkney, as they were kept and trained as pets and guards and perhaps used by farmers to help tend sheep,” Steve Farrar, interpretation manager at HES, explains in a statement. “But the remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago.”
It’s possible, Farrar adds, that the Neolithic group viewed dogs as their “symbol or totem,” perhaps even dubbing themselves the “dog people.”
Cuween Hill dates to around 3,000 B.C., Sky News reports, but radiocarbon dating places the dog’s actual interment some 500 years later. It remains unclear why the animal was buried so many centuries after the tomb’s creation, but archaeologists posit the timing may point toward the ceremony’s ritual value within the community. As HES observes, the fact that the Orkney residents placed canine remains alongside those of humans could also speak to their belief in an afterlife for both parties.
According to the Scotsman, forensic artist Amy Thornton drew on a CT scan to create a 3-D print of the animal’s skull. After layering clay approximations of muscle, skin and hair onto this base, she cast the model in silicone and added a fur coat designed to mimic that of the European grey wolf. Interestingly, Thornton notes, the process played out much as it would for a human facial reconstruction, although “there is much less existing data” detailing average tissue depth in canine versus human skulls.
The model is the latest in a series of technologically focused initiatives centered on Orkney’s Neolithic residents. Last year, HES published 3-D digital renderings of the chambered cairn on Sketchfab, enabling users to explore the tomb’s four side cells, tall central chamber and entrance passage. First discovered in 1888 but only fully excavated in 1901, the impressive stone structure held 24 canine skulls and the remains of at least eight humans.
In an interview with the Guardian’s Addley, Farrar explains that the reconstruction aims “to bring us closer to who [the dog’s owners] were and perhaps give a little hint of what they believed.”
“When you look at a Neolithic dog, it somehow communicates human relationships,” Farrar concludes. “… I can empathise with the people whose ingenuity made Orkney such an enormously important place. When this dog was around, north-west Europe looked to Orkney.”
“When you look at a Neolithic dog, it somehow communicates human relationships,” Farrar concludes.
That’s a powerful statement.
Now if one goes across to the website for Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn one reads this:
An ancient site for burials
Built between 3000 and 2400 BC, this is an excellent example of a Neolithic chambered tomb. It has four cells opening off a central chamber, which is accessed down a passage. Entrance into the tomb today is through the original passage.
Secondary burials at the Cuween Hill could reflect a continued reverence for the site. A recently discovered settlement nearby is probably contemporary with the cairn, and would likely have been connected.
Tomb of the dogs
Exploration at the tomb in 1901 found:
- Remains of at least eight humans – five skulls on the floor of the chamber, one at the entrance and two in side cells
- The skulls of 24 dogs on the chamber floor
The dog remains suggest the local tribe or family perhaps had a dog as their symbol or totem, or there may have been a belief in an afterlife for animals.
The tomb is completely unlit, which serves to both add to the atmosphere and discourage vandalism and graffiti. It also means the tomb is largely free of green algal growth.
The stonework at Cuween Hill is of particularly high quality. The roof of one of the cells is likely to be original, elsewhere the walls and corbelled roofs have survived to a considerable height.
As I said, we go back a very long time!
9 thoughts on “We go back a very long time”
Fascinating. Clearly, when you look at the Neolithic dog, you can see a fox but the face could definitely morph into a domestic pet of today.
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Absolutely, Susan. Indeed when you look at the face it could be the face of a dog of today. A fascinating article!
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I feel it in my bones too Paul 💛
4,500 years is a long, long time ago, way back in the mists of time one could say, and yet it’s a modern face as well. Thank you, Val, for your thoughts!
That is quite remarkable!
Yes! Indeed, it is more than remarkable when one thinks deeply about it! Four-and-a-half thousand years ago! Phew!
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Amazing. Such a wild looking creature. Part fox, part wolf, part wild hyena… Who knows. Certainly it is a dog. Imagine if they could reconstruct earlier skulls?
Imagine, Colette! Yes, an amazing creature and, yes, very much the dog!