On the citadel mound, a Medieval pit has revealed a surprising find – a completely intact canine burial at the bottom of what otherwise appeared to be a simple refuse pit.
As you know from earlier posts, we have lots of pits from the Medieval period cutting into the Bronze Palace, many of which have animal bones in them. Usually, though, the bones show evidence of butchering and burning and this dog was clearly different. In the photograph above you can see some baked bricks which are part of a Late Assyrian floor, clearly disturbed by a later pit.
Tina Greenfield, a PhD candidate in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, is our team’s zooarchaeologist and she was out of the lab and into the field to help with the excavation and recording of the dog as soon as word got back from the excavations.
Tina has been on the project for a number of years and has analyzed tens of thousands of animal bones from all periods and many of our operations. She is writing her dissertation on the animal bones from the Late Assyrian period, comparing butchery and consumption practices in different areas of the ancient city. Just like today, the most common animals consumed in the Assyrian period were sheep and goats, the descendents of whom still are frequent visitors to the excavations.
Back to the canine burial, Tina tells me that this was an adult male dog, at least 7-9 years old based on the fusion of his bones and his morphology (e.g., very long canines). We’re not sure how he died but interestingly we found five fish bones in association with the dog burial, a very rare find at Ziyaret Tepe. While we can’t be certain, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that the dog’s last meal may have been fish from the Tigris River! Dirk has reported that in addition to the animal bones, the pit contained pottery sherds (they are ubiquitous on the site) and a small iron knife. The latter is now in the conservation lab where Lourdes and Friederike will have an opportunity to examine it more carefully and do some restoration work.
The dog skeleton was carefully cleaned in situ by Tina, then drawn by Paola, and photographed by Hilary. Dirk made precise measurements of its location and condition and then we removed the bones to the lab, where Tina will give the dog a full description in our project database. We don’t know the dog’s breed, but is was clearly a domesticated dog and, given his burial treatment, perhaps even a family pet.