Dog-related warrior rituals, sacred burials and sacrifices

They revered and buried dogs during the Jomon period, but the practice of eating dogs began from the Yayoi period, signifying a change in regime or influx of new foreign lineages from the continent, bringing with them new customs. See Masayuki Manabe’s exerpted commentary below:

“Eating of dog meat by the Japanese

Take dogs, for example. The majority of Japanese these days feel repelled at the thought of eating dog meat, and yet it was a common food in Japan from the Yayoi period right up until the Edo period. During the Jomon period there were many examples of careful burials of canine hunting partners, but hardly any such burials took place in the Yayoi period. The spread of rice cultivation made hunting less important and so dogs became less useful, coupled to which the custom of eating dog meat was introduced from the continent, and so they became a food source. Archeological excavations of the ruins of the residences of feudal lords and the like have revealed large quantities of bones of dogs that were clearly used for food, showing that the custom of eating canine meat continued into the Edo period. It is likely that this meat was not only eaten by humans but also used for feeding falcons. The custom of eating dog meat seems to have survived for some time in the Meiji period, too, as Roka Tokutomi writes in Mimizu no tawagoto [Gibberish of an Earthworm] about his grief for his pet dog Obuchi who was eaten by Satsuma troops during the Satsuma Rebellion. On the other hand, numerous woodblock prints and other paintings clearly show that many dogs were cared for as pets from the Edo period. The shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa’s Edicts on Compassion for Living Things hardly needs to be mentioned, and during the time of the eighth shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa people were executed for eating dog stew. At the sites of residences of feudal lords, the bones of dogs probably used for food have been found as well as the bones of dogs that have been buried with care.

During the Edo period, Western and Chinese dogs were imported via Nagasaki as pets (Kufu, Waseda University Library Collection)”Source: A Mixture of Animal Welfare and Animal Use – The Changing Relationship between Humans and AnimalsThe above customs show an influx of ideas and influences from China, possibly Southwest or Western China.

See also related Earliest Mixtec Cremations Found; Show Elite Ate Dog (April 9, 2008) the practices likely diffused from East Asia across the Bering Straits into the New World.

There appears to be a divide between Indo-European/Caucasian dog-beliefs and East Asian regarding their respective ritual practices. Indo-European/Caucasian dog beliefs relate to their role as companions or guides to dead humans in the Underworld.

Dog bones at Russian site may indicate ancient warrior initiation
Researchers say the bones of dogs and wolves at the Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarskoe in Russia’s Volga region reveal a rite of animal sacrifice. Archaeologists from Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., speculate that young boys were initiated as warriors by killing the dogs, who had most likely been their pets for years. The sacrifice would make sense, said researcher Dorcas Brown, because “you have to train people to kill.” National Geographic News (5/14)

Boys Killed Pets to Become Warriors in Early Russia

In Russia, dismembered dogs point to ancient initiation rite.

Young boys learn traditional fighting in a school near Samara, Russia.
Young men in Russia, like those pictured above, have long been taught traditional methods of fighting—but did Bronze Age initiation rites for boys ‘destined’ to become warriors involve animal sacrifice?
Photograph by Yulia Rubtsova, ITAR-TASS/Alamy
Dog skull fragments.

Chopped dog skull fragments. Photograph courtesy Dorcas Brown
Heather Pringle (National Geographic May 14, 2013)
At first, archaeologists Dorcas Brown and David Anthony were deeply puzzled. While excavating the Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarkskoe in Russia’s Volga region, they unearthed the bones of at least 51 dogs and 7 wolves. All the animals had died during the winter months, judging from the telltale banding pattern on their teeth, and all were subsequently skinned, dismembered, burned, and chopped with an ax.
Moreover, the butcher had worked in a precise, standardized way, chopping the dogs’ snouts into three pieces and their skulls into geometrically shaped fragments just an inch or so in size. “It was very strange,” says Anthony.
To him and Brown, both of whom teach at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, the skilled and standardized method of butchering the dogs pointed to some sort of ritual. Pam Crabtree, an archaeozoologist at New York University, who was not a member of the team, agrees. She notes that the butchery pattern was entirely different from those used in prehistoric Europe and other parts of the world for slicing off dog meat to eat.
“The bone was chopped into small bits, and it was not the way you would do it if you were looking at getting the major muscle groups,” Crabtree says.
So how to account for the mysterious remains at Krasnosamarskoe? Why did someone apparently sacrifice these animals?
Ancient Rite of Passage
In search of clues, Anthony and Brown combed the mythology, songs, and scriptures in Eurasia’s early and closely related Indo-European languages. Many ancient Indo-European speakers associated dogs with death and the underworld. Reading through prayers composed by tribes in India possibly as early as 1400 B.C., the researchers found a description of secret initiation rites for boys destined to become roving warriors.
At the age of eight, the boys were sent to ritualists, who bathed them, shaved their heads, and gave them animal skins to wear. Eight years later, the initiates underwent a midwinter ceremony in which they ritually died and journeyed to the underworld. After this, the boys left their homes and families, painted their bodies black, donned a dog-skin cloak, and joined a band of warriors.
Brown and Anthony think that similar rites may have taken place at Krasnosamarskoe at the onset of the raiding season, which ran from the winter solstice to the summer solstice. And they speculate that part of the ceremony required the boys to kill their own dogs. The dead canines ranged in age from 7 to 12 years, suggesting that they were longtime companionspossibly even hounds raised with the boys from birth.
“That makes a lot of sense,” concludes Brown. To take on the mantle of a warrior, an innocent boy had to become a killer.
Recent research conducted by military psychologists, moreover, suggests that the transition from civilian to soldier can be very difficult. In other words, “you have to train people to kill,” says Brown.
For the Bronze Age boys at Krasnosamarskoe, this training may have included killing one of their childhood companionstheir faithful dog.

Buried Dogs Were Divine “Escorts” for Ancient Americans by Anne Casselman (National Geographic News April 23, 2008)

Hundreds of prehistoric dogs found buried throughout the southwestern United States show that canines played a key role in the spiritual beliefs of ancient Americans, new research suggests.

Throughout the region, dogs have been found buried with jewelry, alongside adults and children, carefully stacked in groups, or in positions that relate to important structures, said Dody Fugate, an assistant curator at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Fugate has conducted an ongoing survey of known dog burials in the area, and the findings suggest that the animals figured more prominently in their owners’ lives than simply as pets, she said.

“I’m suggesting that the dogs in the New World in the Southwest were used to escort people into the next world, and sometimes they were used in certain rituals in place of people,” Fugate said.

To conduct her research, Fugate collected data on known dog burials and urged her archaeologist colleagues to note when canine remains were found during excavations.

“I have a database now of almost 700 dog burials, and a large number of them are either buried in groups in places of ritual or they’re buried with individual human beings,” she said.

Many of the burials are concentrated in northwestern New Mexico and along the Arizona-New Mexico border, she said (seemap).

“All of that area was full of doggy people,” she said.

She reported her findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, Canada, last month.

1,900 Years of Burials

Fugate’s database indicates that dog burials were most common between 400 B.C. and A.D. 1100.

“The earlier the [human] burial, the more likely you are to have dog in it,” Fugate said.

By the 1400s and 1500s the practice of burying people with dogs had stopped. Indeed, she noted, today’s Pueblo and Navajo Indians believe it is improper to bury dogs.

What the ancient dogs looked like is an open question, she said, but their remains suggest that they were far more diverse than was previously believed.

Fugate has seen remains of ancient canines with floppy ears and pointed ears, long tails and curly tails, small builds and lanky ones.

There were even white ones, found buried on the Arizona-Utah border, whose fur was used to weave ritual garb, she noted.

“They were a motley crew,” she summed up.

Archaeologists’ Best Friend?

Susan Crockford is a zooarchaeologist at Canada’s University of Victoria who has studied dog breeds in the Pacific Northwest.

She agreed that dog remains have often been overlooked during archaeological excavations.

Archaeologists tend to examine animal bones at excavation sites with an eye to what humans were eating, rather than what their relationships with dogs were like, she said.

“Because dogs are very seldom come across in a way that suggests they were used for food, they tend to get dismissed as being not very significant … so they tend to not be reported in very much detail,” Crockford said.

Crockford suggested that dogs’ spiritual role was among their most important functions in the region, second perhaps to their value as hunting or herding companions.

“Basically [ritual dog burial] is a pattern that’s found around the world, and [Fugate]’s doing some really important work in documenting in detail the instances of that phenomena in her part of the world,” Crockford said.

(See related photo: “Dog Mummies Found in Ancient Peru Pet Cemetery”[September 25, 2006].)

For her part, Fugate said the data she is collecting will give dogs their day as key players in understanding the past.

“Not thinking that dogs might have had a religious relationship [with people] as well means that you’re leaving out a chunk of [ancient] religion,” she said.

“If [you make that assumption], you are losing enormous amounts of information about the ritual context and the mindset of these people.”


Dog burial customs may have originated in the ancient Near East where they are found to have been most prevalent practices, as a connection has been revealed via canine DNA studies. More on Near Eastern dog burials and customs, see Surprise Egypt Tombs Yield Ornate Coffins, Dog Mummies (January 30, 2008) and our previous related articles including: Dog Days: The Isis-Nile-Star and Sirius dog-star connection


Our other dog-belief related articles:

Descended from Wolves: Wolf Symbolism Around the World

Dog-headed deity indicates dog domestication, ritual worship and dog-diet closely related

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