Ever since a hungry, unassuming, and lonely wolf-like creature first approached a group of humans more than 20,000 years ago, dogs have been our most faithful companions in the animal world. Together, we’ve conquered nature, raised above our base challenges, and spread throughout the world. Our connection with dogs is nothing short of amazing.
If you’ve ever had the fortune to have a dog as a friend, you know what this connection is like. It’s often said that humans domesticated them, but in truth, we both domesticated each other.
We have adapted for the benefit of both species, and we’ve engaged in a symbiotic, win-win relationship with dogs ever since they chose us as their partners-in-crime. We’re lucky they did.
Now, for the first time in four millennia, we can see what ancient dogs looked like. And that’s amazing. We know that artificial breeding has brought about countless and radical changes on dogs throughout the world, producing all kinds of breeds—some healthy, some not.
So, we know dogs today are really not like the dogs we were walking with thousands of years back. Now, we can get a glimpse into that special part of the past. Here’s what dogs looked like over 4,000 years ago.
No… not like this.
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The Historic Environment Scotland (HES) commissioned a facial reconstruction to be performed on ancient bones found on an island in Scotland’s Orkney Archipelago. Facial reconstruction techniques have come a long way since their conception, and the results are becoming increasingly amazing.
Thanks to current state-of-the-art forensic technology, the results of the commission revealed the face of a Neolithic dog, seen for the first time in over 4,000 years. And it is cute!
This is it, the model created from the skull discovered at Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn, Orkney. Credit: Historic Environment Scotland
The skull was CT-scanned by a team of researchers in the Diagnostic Imaging Service at Edinburgh University. This allowed them to render a 3D print, which was then turned over to Amy Thornton, a forensic artist, who created a realistic model of the animal’s head.
Thornton started by building the muscles on the face, then the skin, and finally the hair, much like forensic artists have been doing with human models for decades now.
According to Dr Alison Sheridan, Principal Archaeological Research Curator in the Department of Scottish History and Archaeology at National Museums Scotland,
“The size of a large collie, and with features reminiscent of that of a European grey wolf, the Cuween dog has much to tell us, not only about ceremonial practices and the symbolic significance of the dog in Late Neolithic Orkney but also about the appearance of domestic dogs in the third millennium BC.”
Isn’t it adorable? Credit: Historic Environment Scotland
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The skull was discovered over 100 years ago in Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn, Scotland, a Neolithic burial monument in the islands of Orkney a few miles to the west of Kirkwall. This ancient cairn dates back to around 3,000 BCE, and it is a great example of a Neolithic chamber used for ritualistic burials by the region’s earliest agricultural communities.
The site was excavated in 1901, and archeologists discovered the remains of at least eight humans alongside the skulls of 24 small dogs—the reconstructed one among them. Research suggests the dogs were buried as part of a ritual more than 500 years after the passage tomb was built, meaning the people that made these elaborate chambers had a special cultural connection with their canine companions.
Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn. Credit: Historic Environment Scotland
As Steve Farrar, Interpretation Manager at HES, said,
“The remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago. Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the ‘dog people.’”
Credit: Historic Environment Scotland
According to HES, this reconstruction is only a part of a bigger project to share the stories of these Neolithic tombs in Orkney with visitors, through the use of cutting-edge technology. So, we’re hoping to see more incredible output from this fascinating site in the near future.
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