Trauma and pathology of a buried dog from San Nicolas Island, California, U. S. A. Barney G. Bartellea Journal of Archaeological Science Rebekah Minchew September 12, 2010 In April of 2010, Barney G. Bartellea led a group of archaeologists on a dig on San Nicholas Island, California, USA. Primary investigators included Bartellea, Rene Vellanoweth, Elizabeth Netherton, Nicholas Poister, William Kendig, Amira Ainis, Ryan Glenn, Johanna Marty, Lisa Thomas-Barnett and Steven Schwartz. The exact location of the excavation site is Tule Creek Village, East Locus, site CA-SNI-25.
Bartellea aimed to contribute to the research focused on the prehistory of dogs in America, specifically in California, for which there is little archaeological dog remains. The primary questions behind this project were 1. How do the remains found relate to other dog remains found in the same area? 2. What was the relationship between this dog and the Native Americans who buried him? 3. How did the dog receive his injuries? 4. How did he survive as long as he did on one of the most remote islands off the coast of North America?
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Though there were several aspects of the investigation left open, what could be determined for certain was that the dog suffered blunt force trauma to the scapula, rib, and phalanges to such an extreme that it is unlikely he survived without human care. It is speculated that the dog hobbled on three healthy legs due to his injuries. The state of the healing process indicates the dog survived at least four months after the initial injuries. The regard the people of Tule Creek Village had for his dog is reflected in the great concern they took in his burial.
Regardless of the fact that the cause of death cannot be confidently determined, the care shown in treatment of this dog’s illness and in his formal burial indicate that the people of San Nicholas Island, like humans from the opposite side of the world, felt some sort of bond with their dogs. San Nicholas Island has had evidence of the presence of humans as early as about 5000 years ago. Investigators have uncovered two cemeteries, house depressions, and communal structures along with many other features.
Excavations right at East Locus show evidence of ritual activities with the presence of three hearths, aligned along an east-west axis, encircled by an array of pit features which include dog/fox burials, ceremonial caches, and rock cairns (Vellanoweth 2008). With the knowledge of these ritual sites, the information leaves to question whether the dog was buried (and killed) through sacrificial or ceremonial means or whether he had family value to the Native Americans involved in his burial. This gap in the results is one I consider a weakness.
When addressing prehistorical human and animal relationships, little can be determined through research, only speculated. Along with these dogs remains were the remains of a double dog burial in the same area. The determined age range is between A. D. 1230-1270. This date is consistent with the dating of the double dog burial located at the same site. Archaeologists speculate that the burials may have occurred very close in time. Twenty nine dogs from thirteen Nicholas Island archaeological sites have been cataloged over the past several years, but few detailed studies have been published.
This particular investigation is valuable due to the small amount data that exists on trauma and pathology of dogs uncovered in archaeological sites. The dog skeleton was found 18 cm (7 in) below the surface embedded in dark yellowish brown sandy silt (10 YR ? ), but was placed on top of a layer of light yellowish brown sandy silt (10 YR 6/4). Once the cranium began to surface, tools used in the archaeological site (CA-SNI-25) included brushes, pans, bamboo skewers (trowels used prior). As more of the dog was excavated, aspirators, limber palette knives and surgical tweezers were used.
As each skeletal fragment was removed, it was identified, wrapped in scratch-free tissue, bagged, and labeled. The skeletal pieces were then dry brushed and analyzed in a lab before being reassembled and photographed. This is the most effective way to handle an entire skeleton composed of hundreds of small fragile bones. However, it is possible to speculate that the utmost care was not taken in handling the remains due to the fact that several pieces were damaged during the excavation and were unable to be analyzed.
Measurements were made and recorded, though there are several gaps in the results due to damage during excavation or poor preservation. In relation to previous research, few detailed studies of dog remains have been conducted for southern California, making it difficult to compare the morphology, trauma, and pathology of local dogs. Aside from the obvious fact that it is archaeologically focused, this article relates to the course in the way that it addresses human behavior and interactions.
In determining that this dog was intentionally and ceremoniously buried rather than simply left at the place of it’s death and that the dog was probably cared for after his initial injuries, archaeologists can conclude that this animal held some sort of value to the people of San Nicholas Island. This article accomplishes several things. First, it is a valuable addition to the literature for archaeological dogs from California and contributes to the history of San Nicholas Island. Secondly, it provides archaeological information on the behavior and human-animal interaction taking place prehistorically.
From a scientific point of view, the archaeological results published here are sound. The archaeologists involved effectively reported their findings without much speculation about the intention and purpose of the dog’s treatment before and after death. Much attention was put into identifying each and every injury, also putting much attention into determining the healing stage of each injury. The presence of From an intellectual perspective, this article spurs thoughts of why the dog was cared for and buried in this nature. Was he a “pet” to the Native Americans who buried him or was he a ritualistic sacrifice?
Due to the knowledge that several other dog burial sites were found in the same area, the latter explanation seems possible if not probable. Regardless, this dog was shown compassion by human beings for a period of time. But, why? There are so many questions spurred by this article that cannot be answered through investigation. It’s personally interesting because it shows the interactions between species on a prehistoric plane. At first sight, it seems that this compassion stemmed beyond a strive for survival into something resembling kinship between humans and animals.
But then the question must be asked: “Does compassion also play a role in human survival– That, perhaps, by keeping other species alive, we are keeping ourselves alive? As I said, these questions can’t be answered through the research, but I think the article is fascinating because it forces the reader to question regardless. Works Cited Vellanoweth et al. , 2008 R. L. Vellanoweth, B. G. Bartelle, A. F. Ainis, A. C. Cannon and S. Schwartz, A double dog burial from San Nicolas Island, California, USA: osteology, context, and significance, J. Archaeol. Sci. 35 (2008), pp. 3111???3123.