Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Man's Best Friend?

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, we rarely find artifacts or other inclusions within the burial features found at the Danbury site. The two notable exceptions are the whelk shell burial found in 2005 (see the 2004 excavation report) and the birdstone burial discovered just last year (described in the 2006 report, coming soon!). This week, however, we discovered something unusual placed within the extended burial of an adult female (BF 07-07). Located above the left leg of this burial was a concentration of animal bones which included the skull and jaw of a dog. Below is a closeup image of the dog remains showing the cranium (on right, upper jaw missing), the left side of the lower jaw (with teeth), about four cervical (neck) vertebrae (lower center), a rib, and one scapula (shoulder blade, on left). The white object in the center is the shell of a land snail of relatively recent origin.

No other parts of the dog skeleton were found in the burial so this feature appears not to represent the deliberate burial of, for example, a pet dog but more likely an offering of a dog head or upper body section. Interestingly, a very similar association of a female burial with the head of a dog was documented during the 2003 salvage excavations at the site.

Historical accounts of Great Lakes Native American tribes often mention the importance of dogs, not only as pets or hunting companions but also as sacred offerings or objects of sacrifice used to honor important individuals. The fact that these dog remains were accompanied by a mixture of bones from other creatures (additional offerings?) seems to support this interpretation over the more romantic notion that some Danbury site residents wished to have "man's best friend" accompany them into the afterlife.

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