Heritage boffins reveal what a pet dog looked like 4,000 years ago

The Cuween Dog is a 4,000-year-old mutt, adored by Neolithic people - and now he's back. dog-wow © melantropes - Instagram

A Neolithic-age pet dog has shown his face for the first time in 4,000 years after boffins rebuilt his head using cutting-edge techniques.

By G. John Cole

Published on the , Updated on the

Neolithic dogs go to heaven

Inhabitants of Britain in Neolithic times may have believed in an afterlife – and that they would get to meet their pet dogs there when they arrived.

A chambered cairn built into Cuween Hill in Orkney around 2,400 BC is structured around a central chamber, with four cells and an access passage leading the way in: its complexity suggests that Neolithic ‘Brits’ carried out burial rites rather than disposing of their dead in more convenience-oriented ways.

And two-dozen bones and skulls belonging to ancient doggos were found among the human remains when the site was opened up in 1901, suggesting that those sentimental old humans were buried with their pets.

One of those skulls, carbon-dated to 500 years after the building of the tomb, has been reconstructed so that we know what the people’s pets may have looked like.

“Just as they're treasured pets today, dogs clearly had an important place in Neolithic Orkney, as they were kept and trained as pets and guards and perhaps used by farmers to help tend sheep,” Steve Farrar, interpretation manager at Historic Environment Scotland, told The Independent. “But the remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago."

“Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the 'dog people'.”

Inverse taxidermy

Forensic artist Amy Thornton used 3D printing methods and traditional clay techniques to recreate the skull, then cast it in silicone and clad it with European grey wolf-style fur – a creature the ancient dog is thought to have resembled. The Neolithic nipper, known only as The Cuween Dog, would have been the size of a large collie.

“This reconstruction has been a particularly interesting project to be involved in,” Thornton told The Independent, “as it marks the first time I've employed forensic methods that would usually be used for a human facial reconstruction and applied these to an animal skull.”

The possibility that it was the dogs themselves who buried the bones, as dogs are wont to do, does not seem to have been examined.


A post shared by mj (human) Maggie (dog) (@melantropes) on

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