That relationship!

Dogs and humans go back a long, long way!

We like to think of our relationship with dogs as a moderately recent affair. Not the time since dogs and humans have mixed together, that was a very long time ago, but having a dog as a pet.

But even that view needs to be updated.

Try 4,000 years ago!


New Study Looks at Why Neolithic Humans Buried Their Dogs With Them 4,000 Years Ago

Analysis of the remains of 26 dogs found near Barcelona suggest the dogs had a close relationship with ancient humans

Specimen of a dog skull ( Wagner Souza e Silva / Museum of Veterinary Anatomy FMVZ USP via Wikicommons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International )

By Marissa Fessenden

FEBRUARY 14, 2019

Humans have enjoyed a long history of canine companions. Even if it’s unclear exactly when dogs were first domesticated (and it may have happened more than once), archaeology offers some clues as to the nature of their relationship with humans.

The latest clue suggests that humans living in Southern Europe between 3,600 to 4,200 years ago cared for dogs enough to regularly share their gravesites with them. Barcelona-based researchers studied the remains of 26 dogs from four different archaeological sites on the northeastern Iberian Peninsula.

The dogs ranged in age from one month to six years old. Nearly all were buried in graves with or nearby humans. “The fact that these were buried near humans suggests there was an intention and a direct relation with death and the funerary ritual”, says lead author Silvia Albizuri, a zooarchaeologist with the University of Barcelona, in a press release.

To better understand the dogs’ relationship with the humans they joined in the grave, Albizuri and her colleagues analyzed isotopes in the bones. Studying isotopes—variants of the same chemical element with different numbers of neutrons, one of the building blocks of atoms—can reveal clues about diet because molecules from plants and animals come with different ratios of various isotopes. The analysis showed that very few of the dogs ate primarily meat-based diets. Most enjoyed a diet similar to humans, consuming grains like wheat as well as animal protein. Only in two puppies and two adult dogs did the samples suggest the diet was mainly vegetarian.

This indicates that the dogs lived on food fed to them by humans, the team reports in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “These data show a close coexistence between dogs and humans, and probably, a specific preparation of their nutrition, which is clear in the cases of a diet based on vegetables,” says study co-author Eulàlia Subirà, a biological anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Top: remains of a dog found at the archeological site called La Serreta. Bottom: drawing of dog skeleton found between human skeletons in the necropolis Bòbila Madurell. (UB-UAB)


The archaeological sites all belong to people of the Yamnaya Culture, or Pit Grave Culture. These nomadic people swept into Europe from the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas. They kept cattle for milk production and sheep and spoke a language that linguists suspect gave rise to most of the languages spoken today in Europe and Asia as far as northern India.

The buried dogs aren’t the oldest found in a human grave. That distinction belongs to a puppy found in a 14,000-year-old grave in modern-day Germany. The care given to that puppy to nurse it through illness was particularly intriguing to the researchers who discovered it. “At least some Paleolithic humans regarded some of their dogs not merely materialistically, in terms of their utilitarian value, but already had a strong emotional bond with these animals,” Liane Giemsch, co-author on a paper about the discovery and curator at the Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt, told Mary Bates at National Geographic in 2018.

The fact that the researchers in the new study found so many dogs in the region they studied indicates that the practice of burying dogs with humans was common at the time, the late Copper Age through the early Bronze Age. Perhaps the canine companions helped herd or guard livestock. What is certain is that ancient humans found the animals to be important enough to stay close to even in death.


That last sentence is precious. “What is certain is that ancient humans found the animals to be important enough to stay close to even in death.

As far back as 14,000 years!

24 thoughts on “That relationship!

  1. Have I ever mentioned the wonderful dog story in the Mahabharata? I must have, but it’s worth re-telling, because like Charlie passing the last test to win the Chocolate Factory, Yudhisthira’s final test (before being allowed into heaven) is to demonstrate his love for his dog.

    And finally, Indra descended in his chariot. He praised the extraordinary qualities of Yudhisthira and invited him into the chariot to ascend to heaven.

    “The dog must come with me,” said Yudhisthira

    “That is not possible,” said Indra. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”

    “In that case, I do not seek heaven, “replied Yudhisthira. “The dog was my faithful companion and I cannot abandon it. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven will mean nothing to me in comparison to its grief. It has done nothing to deserve abandonment and had none of the weaknesses of my wife and brothers. If it does not deserve to go to heaven, then neither do I.”
    And so he turned back.

    “Stop!” cried Indra. “None have the qualities that you possess, O Yudhisthira! The dog is Dharma, from whom you have descended!”

    And indeed, the dog had transformed into the God of Dharma and blessed Yudhisthira for his complete lack of selfishness and dedication to righteousness in all circumstances.

    And thus rose Yudhisthira to heaven in the chariot of Indra.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Why indeed. And we have Evangelicals actively working against science, like The Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.

        It begins:


        1. We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

        This declaration has been adopted by evangelical churches across the US.

        It’s so sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such an interesting read Paul, on our plot we found many bones which we believe maybe pets which were buried on the allotment plots, along with many sections of broken clay smoking pipes.. Dogs will always be Mans Best Friend..

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I smile as our granddaughter dug up a tooth, fang.. it may have been a dog, fox who knows, but she wanted it to be wolfs.. 🙂 So we have it in the shed and its known as the Wolf tooth.. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I find it a little sad to see dogs sacrifices to be buried with their owner. While people see this as an endearing thing, I’m not sure that it is not akin to the idea of travelling to the afterlife with one’s ‘possessions.’
    Asian peoples in traditional rural areas, usually have a few dogs. They are fed rice and poor scraps. The dogs, of course, have lots of puppies. I have gone back to the same areas year after year. The dogs change, the people don’t. Sad reality is that the dogs are kept for meat. They serve their time, protecting the small farm from would be intruders, are fed and watered, but then used as food.
    Traditional Asians do not see this any differently to raising cattle or pigs. It is cheaper and almost self sustaining. It is my guess that puppies found in those graves, may just have been provided as part of a food source for the journey into the afterlife. We cannot put today’s values onto people of the past who did not have the luxury of owning real pets. There will be some who may have loved their animals, but real love comes with compassion. Sacrificing an animal is not compassionate, but selfish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I will qualify that view with an opposite one too. Working dogs were likely loyal to only one person. Valued for retrieving hunted meat or helping with a kill, the animal would have been deemed of value enough to be buried with its companion person, upon death. There isn’t much to indicate how the dogs died, or if they were buried at the same time as the person.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, there is a degree of uncertainty as to exactly what happened and we do know that attitudes have changed immeasurably. Mainly for the better. Colette, the problem with me republishing other articles is that I only get a limited view of the total picture.


      2. I know… It is an interesting article, and it does show that we valued dogs from early history during our own development of tools. I would liken it a bit to the disappearing Amazon tribes. Our early ancestors held a balanced ‘needs must’ sort of relationship with the environment.


  4. Wow very interesting. I think we all imagined a dog being kept more as a tool to be used for different purposes rather than a living breathing loving animal. So nice to know how much they were respected in life and death. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome Angie. We hope you find this blog of interest and look forward to seeing you again. Yes, this article certainly reveals more about the dog than most of us hitherto thought the case. Wonderful, wonderful animals going back thousands of years!


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