Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Peru's Mummy Dogs Volume 60 Number 1, January/February 2007
by Roger Atwood

Are the country's beloved pets descendants of ancient llama herders?

[image]The Chiribaya people of Peru were definitely dog lovers, if this carefully buried 3,000-year-old pup is any indication. Genetic testing will reveal if modern dogs like Abdul are the same breed. (Reuters/Mariana Bazo) [LARGER IMAGE]

One morning about 10 years ago, a dog with golden fur and floppy ears showed up at the door of archaeologist Sonia Guillén's laboratory at the Mallqui Center in the southern Peruvian city of Ilo. She and her research team took in the stray pooch and named him Abdul, and he's kept them company ever since.

Now Guillén thinks Abdul might be something of a living fossil. During her work at an ancient cemetery near Ilo, which holds the remains of some 2,000 people, she has found 80 dogs buried almost 1,000 years ago. About 30 of the dogs were wrapped in llama-wool blankets as finely woven as those accompanying low-ranking people buried nearby. The dogs were interred in individual grave pits. Llama bones and fish skeletons were placed next to their snouts, showing their owners left treats for them to enjoy in the afterlife. With their fur and tissue well preserved by the region's arid climate, some of the ancient dogs still look remarkably like Abdul.

Roger Atwood is the author of Stealing History.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America