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American Scene: Hounding the Dead Volume 53 Number 5, September/October 2000
by Brenda Smiley

A remarkable Michigan mutt sniffs out ancient human remains

[image] Artifacts associated with three burials located by Eagle at the Kerr Site near Flat Rock, Michigan. The pot dates to around A.D. 1200 (Dale Niesen, River Raisin Chapter, Michigan Archaeology Society)

Nose skimming the moist earth, Eagle moves in ever-narrowing swoops. The ground is muddy in these days of Michigan's erratic spring, a near quagmire, but the sleek, black dog is obsessed, his cheeks ballooning in and out like miniature bellows as he closes in on a "hit."

Sandra Anderson moves almost as one with the animal, directing the search with hand and voice commands. "See how he's moving--like a machine," she says. Suddenly, Eagle drops to his belly. "He's in the zone now," Anderson announces. "We have another body here. " She praises the "hit, " and with that the dog is up again, zeroing in on another find a few paces away.

Eagle, an eight-year-old Doberman Pinscher-German Shorthaired Pointer mix specializes in locating human remains--specifically, ancient remains that have been in the ground for many years, even centuries. Gifted with unusual olfactory abilities, he is the star of Canine Solutions Inc., Anderson's Virginia-based company that trains dogs for all manner of tracking and cadaver search. Anderson directs the company's Michigan detection task training division. Sniffing out ancient remains is a field pioneered by Eagle--the only dog in the world certified for ancient human remains detection. "We are using the dog as an archaeological tool in an area that otherwise might have been ignored," says Anderson.

Brenda Smiley has written on DNA privacy issues, human rights archaeology in Bosnia, and is at work on a book, Diary of a Gravedigger.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America