Dogs in archaeology


A large proportion of the animal depictions found by archaeologists are of dogs. These depictions show the importance of dogs as symbols — from slave to god, depending on time and place. The oldest depiction is a cave painting from around 10,000 BC in Cueva de la Vieja, Spain, which appears to show a dog cutting off a deer’s retreat on the hunt.

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Dogs as gods

The best-known example of a deified dog in Egypt is Anubis, half-dog, half-jackal, which is first mentioned in the 19th dynasty (around 4200 BC). Dogs were often found lurking around necropolises at night, so Anubis was the god of the dead, presiding over funerals and care of dead bodies, particularly embalming.

In Greek mythology, the dog was a creature forged by Hephaestus, the god of artisans, bestowing it with a privileged position among the animals.

For the Aztecs the dog-headed god Xolotl gave birth to humanity, feeding and raising it, throwing the bones of the dead into hell.

Working dogs and war dogs

Since the dawn of time, humans have used dogs as assistants. From being slaves in Mesopotamia (“dog” and “slave” share the same ideogram in cuneiform script from around 2000 BC), dogs gradually took on an essential role in human work.

Virtually all early hunting depictions portray dogs alongside men, including scenes depicting hounds hunting big cats on the outer walls of the Neolithic settlement of Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia. Prior to the 18th dynasty in Egypt, dogs helped humans hunt antelope and gazelle. Around 1500 BC, the multiplication and specialisation of breeds produced faster Greyhounds. In ancient Greece and Rome too, dogs helped on the hunt and were often depicted in art.

They also began serving as guards, such as Cerberus, who controlled access to Hades in Greek mythology. In the Far East, lapdogs were the guardians of eunuchs (3470 BC), whereas in ancient Rome (1st century AD), they were leashed and tasked with guarding homes – a mosaic from Pompeii bears the famous inscription cave canem, beware of the dog.

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Dogs in archaeology
    Dogs in archaeology

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