Old Dog Bone Fragment Found

What does it mean?
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2011

A graduate student studying the diet and nutrition of people living in Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago has found evidence that those people were eating dog meat. Samuel Belknap III was sorting through dried human waste and found a bone that DNA tests suggest came from a domesticated dog, not a fox or wolf. The bone was found in a pile of human excrement and had the orange-brown color typical of a bone that has passed through someone’s digestive tract, which is why the reseachers think their find shows that people were eating dog meat.

Although it is unappealing in our culture to eat dog meat, especially among dog lovers, it’s really not so surprising that people in Texas thousands of years ago were doing so. In Central America during that time period, many people ate dogs, and across the Great Plains, many people did so when food was scarce. Eating the meat of dogs is widespread today, though it is not common in Western culture. Additionally, many of us who cringe at the thought of dog meat do eat the meat from other domestic animals such as cows, sheep, goats and chicken.
Carbon-dating suggests that the bone in question is 9,400 years old, and thus is the oldest evidence of domesticated dogs in the Americas. The next oldest finds were of dogs from around 8,000 years ago. Evidence of domestication from archaeological records goes back over 30,000 years in Belgium, 26,000 years in the Czech Republic and as far back as 15,000 years in Siberia. On this side of the Atlantic, the records are less detailed and do not extend as far back as in other areas of the world.
There are some concerns regarding the study such as the possibility that the dog was consumed by some other animal other than a human, and that the DNA testing on such a small bone fragment may not be accurate. The piece of bone is 15 millimeters by 8-10 millimeters, which is roughly the size of a pinky fingernail. The bone has been identified as a fragment from where the skull and spine connect.
The full article on this discovery will be coming out in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology later this year.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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