The members of a Bronze-Age community in the Russian steppes roasted, filleted, and ate dogs in a ritual that may have had something to do with werewolf myths. A paper detailing the finding was recently published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology by scientists who have been excavating the site for years.
According to David Anthony and Dorcas Brown, who co-authored the paper, at least 64 canine species (mostly dogs, with some wolves) were sacrificed at the Srubnaya-culture settlement of Krasnosamarskoe, which is located in the shadow of the Ural Mountains. The charred 4,000-year-old remains suggest that the community practiced a ritual in which the members sacrificed and consumed the dogs — a practice not found at other sites in the area.
Anthony and Brown wrote that cooking and eating dogs (and wolves) would have been considered taboo in the region at the time. Yet, the archaeological find shows dog sacrifice and consumption occurred and that these were part of an initiation ceremony in which young men absorbed the spirits of the animals and “transformed” into werewolves. This practice would have marked their entry into manhood.
According to the Hartwick College archaeologists, it appears that the rite of passage was performed by the Bronze-Age community repeatedly. Anthony and Brown noted that the practice is tied to Indo-European culture, where stories of men transforming into dogs or wolves on their quest to becoming warriors are common.
The paper details how dog sacrifice was performed 4,000 years ago in the Bronze-Age settlement.
“Their heads were chopped into small standardized segments with practiced blows of an axe on multiple occasions throughout the occupation.”
It also explained how the archaeologists concluded that the dog sacrifices were ritualistic. According to Anthony and Brown, the way in which the bones of the canines were arranged suggests that the dogs were not killed for everyday sustenance. Instead, the killings were done in the wintertime as part of the community members’ rites of passage. The archaeologists also believe that the dogs and wolves were the domesticated companions of the young men. When the boys reached puberty, they then had to kill and eat their pets.
"Warriors were no longer the familiar men of the village—they were soldiers, agents of a bureaucratic state. Perhaps that's why a coming-of-age ritual among villagers became a terrifying story of people whose violent, wolflike impulses are uncontrollable." https://t.co/wvmxWIyAYF— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) November 20, 2017
After the young men had performed the dog sacrifice and eaten canine flesh, they believed that they had tapped into the power of the dogs and could “become” werewolves. They then formed “war-bands” and raided neighboring settlements.
In 2013, Anthony and Brown told National Geographic that bones from similar pits they excavated years ago showed that the dogs were between seven and 12-years-old when they were killed. This suggested that the canines were lifelong pets of the boys who were eventually tasked with killing them.
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