Shrine to dog follows precedent

This article is posted by permission of the Alexandria Gazette.

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Shrine to dog follows precedent

July 21, 1994
By Pamela J. Cressey

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A rock shrine over a dog’s burial place, excavated by Alexandria city archaeologists in a back yard on South Fairfax Street.
"Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild." Rudyard Kipling began one of my favorite Just So Stories entitled the "The Cat That Walked By Himself" with this sentence. Published 92 years ago, this tale is a carefully crafted story of animal domestication which draws the distinction between Dog--First Friend--and Cat--Who Walks By Himself.

Kipling's Woman in the tale evokes a magic that draws animals into the cave to accept food in return for work. The Dog, of course, is the first to be lured. "When Wild Dog reached the mouth of the Cave he lifted up the dried horse-skin with his nose and sniffed the beautiful smell of the roast mutton...."The Dog was happy to accept the Woman's deal to help hunt and guard the cave in exchange for a good meal.

So goes a children's story of how dogs voluntarily entered into their symbiotic partnership with humans. What is the archaeological story of the dog's development as Best Friend?

Recently Michael Lammey has analyzed the dog skeletons in the Alexandria Archaeology Collection and traced the archaeological evidence of dogs in early human sites. In fact, archaeology supports Kipling. The dog appears to be the first domesticated animal. The earliest dog remains were found in Iraq and date to 10,000 B.C. The lower jaw bone is similar to modern Kurdish dogs.

The first dogs came to North America either across the Bering Straits or on rafts. The earliest specimens were excavated from Jaguar Cave in Idaho and represent two breeds. One dog was small and looked like a terrier. Parts of a second dog's jaw and skull indicate that it was similar to an Arctic dog, such as a Husky.

The special relationship between dog and human must go far back in time. We can see this emotional tie in the special treatment accorded dogs in burials. Dating to 9600 B.C., a tomb in Israel contained a woman holding a puppy less than 5 months old. One of the earliest dog burials was excavated in Missouri. A 7500 year old dog was deliberately placed in a pit and covered with stones.

In Alexandria a similar stone shrine was found in a backyard along South Fairfax Street. City archaeologists excavated under the stones to reveal a perfectly preserved dog skeleton. Oral history led us to the dog's identity and status as a boy's best friend.

"And the Woman said 'His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.'"

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologists. Call 703-838-4399 about times to visit the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.