close, personal bonds between humans and their dogs date back centuries
in California, according to new archaeological research that illuminates
the relationship between Central Valley Indian tribes and their dogs.
The evidence: Central Valley Indians buried
their dogs carefully and with ceremony. People and their dogs were
often buried together, curled up side by side.
Indian dogs were working animals. They
defended the village by warning of intruders and helped procure
food by chasing game during hunts.
They were also family pets, as shown by
the respect with which they were buried, said Paul Langenwalter,
a professor of archaeology and anthropology at Biola University
in La Mirada. He has examined dog skeletons dating back to the 1700s.
"There are no pet cemetery areas,
and we don't find the dog burials on campsites or any place where
there aren't human burials," said Langenwalter, who specializes
in human and dog relationships among California tribes. "They
were buried with the people."
Langenwalter will present his research
in Sacramento on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Society for
American Archaeology. More than 3,000 experts from around the world
are expected to attend the conference, which is open to the public.
His research contradicts older findings
on the dog- Indian relationship. Renowned UC Berkeley anthropologist
Alfred Kroeber, for example, concluded in 1941 that Indian dogs
were "variously got rid of without formality."
Langenwalter's presentation will focus
on recent research at burial sites in Calaveras and Merced counties
that were home to the Miwok and Yokut, respectively.
The burial sites he studied, as well as
others in California, show that Indians had a standard practice
for burying their dogs: They were always buried in a "curled
up" position as though sleeping, and the location was often
marked by a rock cairn.
Langenwalter's research into historical
accounts of Europeans' contact with California tribes also shed
light on these relationships. Dogs, he said, were buried in the
sleeping position as a way of transporting them to the spirit world.
"Some people had very warm relationships
with their animals," Langenwalter said.
Debra Grimes, a Miwok Indian and cultural
preservation specialist for the California Valley Miwok Tribe, agreed
that Indians historically buried a dog with respect. "It is
a family member to the tribal people," Grimes said.
She also agreed with Langenwalter about
another common practice: When Indians died, their dog would be sacrificed
and buried with them.
The practice is consistent with a larger
pattern of property destruction when people died. Often their house
and other belongings would be burned. The belief was that a person's
property should join him in the spirit world.
But Grimes and Langenwalter disagree about
how dogs were sacrificed.
Langenwalter said it was often done by
crushing the dog's skull with a heavy object. He has unearthed many
skulls with that kind of damage. Grimes said Indians fed the dog
a poisonous plant.
Village chiefs or medicinal leaders often
had their own dog, she said. These dogs didn't mix with other dogs
in the tribe but spent all their time with their owner, and often
were trained to find medicinal plants by smell.
Langenwalter said burial evidence indicates
tribes kept both small and large dogs. Terrier-sized dogs were used
to chase small game, such as squirrels and rabbits.
A larger type, generally about 4 inches
taller at the shoulder, was used to chase and corner larger game,
including deer. Many of these dogs showed a "significant number"
of healed bone breaks, he said, possibly from being kicked by deer.
There was one circumstance in which dogs
were eaten, Langenwalter said: to offer visitors food during ceremonies.
When visitors arrived, he said, the host
tribe's pet or working dogs would be tied up in a hut or other shelter,
and a second group of dogs would be let out into the village. Visitors
would be allowed to kill and eat these dogs, and the dogs' owners
would be compensated.
He speculates this was done so visitors
would not use up the host tribe's food supply.
Grimes agreed that this occurred but said
it was for different reasons. Dogs were offered primarily to women
as a special "power" food, such as during marriage or
birth ceremonies, she said.
"We don't have to use the canines
like we did before," she said. "We're very thankful we
can have them just as our pets and family now, and not have to utilize
them as working dogs and not sacrifice them in a spiritual way."