Myth-ritual value of the human graves with dog skeletons in Southeastern Europe and Anatolia duringthe Bronze Age

Ivan Dimitrov

Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria

he paper is devoted to a kind of graves, which have never been a regular feature of funeral practice in the Bronze Age. Their relics are often a single sign for rites, whose meaning is not always clear and recognizable. The custom of interring dogs together with men is attested many times in the previous epochs. In the Early Bronze Age, we can not speak about a common practice of this rite in SE Europe and Anatolia. We have data for five graves in Southeastern Europe - two tombs in Serbia - Ragujevac and Vucedol, and three tombs in Bulgaria - Lovech, Debelt (Bourgas district) and Malka Detelina (Stara Zagora district).
     We have no information for EBA dog skeletons in human graves in Greece. In Early Minoan period at Crete dogs are depicted reclining on pyxis lids from Zakro and a tomb on Mochlos. The earliest dog burial in the Eastern Mediterranean are made on Cyprus - in Lapithos and Anatolia - in Alaca and Selenkahiye (Southern Anatolia and Northern Syria). The data for the other Anatolian sites - Titris and Dorak is unsecure for analysis.
     In the Middle Bronze Age there are a few instances about the discussed rite: 3 tombs in Cyprus - Politiko and Lapithos (Middle Cypriot I). An intact dog skeleton was found in Lerna. In a ritual stone structure in Demircihőyűk among the human relics a headless dog skeleton was discovered. The most numerous dog skeletons in human graves are in Late Bronze Age. There are single instances from Cirna (Oltenia) and Bogazkőy. In Greek world the practice of dog sacrifice seems to have died out after Middle Cypriote I (1850-1800 BC), but in LBA a number of examples were found both on Crete and Mainland Greece in the Late Helladic II-III A1. The majority of recognised such tombs in Mainland and Crete occurs in the chamber tombs and tholoi - Mycenae, Dendra, Asine, Knossos,Gournes, etc.
According to their disposition, way of construction and burial gifts these peculiar graves do not differ from all the rest. Correlation between the presence of dogs, their breed, sex, age or status of the individuals they accompanied is difficult because of the incomplete evidence.
     This kind of graves is more numerous in the next period - Iron Age. After the Geometric period the custom of dog burial disappears almost entirely in Greece, whereas in Ancient Thrace, in Late Iron Age dogs were found in many tombs with inhumation as well as cremation. A possible answer about the interpretation of these graves can be seen in the written sources and the mythology from the second-first millennium BC. There is an information in: documents from Mari and Hittite kingdom, Iliad, Old Testament, Greek authors. Dog sacrifices are often connected with rites, which had magic and ritual value.
     In the literature the basic views about the dog role in the human graves are:
     - mediator between the earth and the Underworld;
      - an animal whose sacrifice aims to facilitate the dead in the transition in the Underworld;
      - companion, guardians or watchdogs of the dead on his last journey;
       - pets buried with their masters.
    The sporadic appearance of these tombs probably is an argument about the role of individual factor in the burial custom. They may well have a religious symbolism in addition to their dedication to their owners. It seems acceptable to think that the dogs like men are subject of cult and their death is a part of a custom which is included in the whole burial ceremony. Maybe the written and mythological data were echo of earlier customs. Probably these graves could be regarded as a bit of additional evidence in favour of the statements about close contacts between the cultures in Southeastern Europe and Anatolia in the Prehistory as well as for Thracian-Hittite analogies in the rituals, mythology and means of communication in the first millennium BC.
2002 © European Science Foundation
2002 © Prehistory Foundation & Reports of Prehistoric Research Projects
2002 ©The author
Editor: Lolita Nikolova
All rights reserved. Published: 12/21/02
Since 12/21/02