Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dog Graves Uncovered in Colonial Virginia

Colonial-era dog graves found in Virginia
Published: Sept. 4, 2010 at 6:21 PM

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Dog remains were discovered in two Colonial-era graves on the campus of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

When two "small, rectangular shafts" dating to the late 1600s to mid-1700s were discovered July 13, archaeologists initially thought they contained the remains of children, Joe Jones, director of William & Mary's Center for Archaeological Research, told The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot Friday.

But the bone fragments, most of which were smaller than a fingernail, turned out to be from small to medium-sized dogs, Jones said, calling the discovery "unprecedented."

"During this period of early Colonial history in Virginia, there's no good evidence for people keeping dogs for household pets. And if not the English colonists, what else might be going on?" Jones asked, leaving open the possibility that the graves were the work of American Indians, who would have been on campus during the early years of the college, which was established in 1693.
Hmmmm, how about perhaps the dogs were sacrificed when a building or buildings were being built or dedicated on the fledgling campus? Some Eastern Europeans practiced dog sacrifice well into the 20th century under just such circumstances, and I believe the English practiced dog sacrifice too, into the 19th century I think.  While I'm certain that most of the significance and true meaning orginally behind such sacrifices had been lost over time, it is interesting to think that ultimately, the people who engaged in such rituals were asking for the protection of the Great Mother Goddess in a rather bass-ackwards way, by sacrificing the very creatures who were her talismen and faithful companions.

The goddess Gula with her dog.
Detail from a boundary stone
dated to the reign of Babylonian
king Nabu-mukin-apli, 978-943 BCE.

Drawing © Stephane Beaulieu,
after Black and Green 2003: 101.
Some information about various goddesses (and a few gods) associated with dogs through the ages:

Cailleach: Celtic (Irish & Scottish) Goddess of disease and plague. A Destroyer, or Crone, Goddess, she was also called "Veiled One". As the Crone, she ruled with the Maiden and the Mother. Monsterous Dogs guarded the gates of her afterworld realm where she received the dead. Celtic myth has her gatekeeper dog named Dormarth "Death's Door". Irish bards who could curse with satire were often called cainte "dog".

Xolotl: In Aztec and Toltec mythology, Xolotl ("The Animal", Lord of the Evening Star, Lord of the Underworld) was the god of lightning and a psychopomp, which is to say that he was the one who aided the dead on their journey to Mictlan, the afterlife.

Xolotl was also the god of fire and of bad luck. He was the twin of Quetzalcoatl, the pair being sons of the virgin Coatlicue, and was the evil personification of Venus, the evening star. He guarded the sun when it went through the underworld at night. He also brought forth humankind and fire from the underworld.

In art, Xolotl was depicted as a skeleton, a dog-headed man - "xolotl" can also mean "dog" in Nahuatl, the Aztec language - or a monster animal with reversed feet. He was also the patron of the Ulama game. He is identified with Xocotl as being the Aztec god of fire.

The axolotl, a type of salamander native to Mexico, is not directly named after the god. Instead, its name derives from the Nahuatl words for water ("atl") and dog (also "xolotl").Xoloitzcuintle is the official name of the Mexican Hairless Dog (also known as Perro Pelón Mexicano in Spanish), a canine species endemic to Central America dating back to Pre-Colombian times. This is one of many native dogs species in the Americas and it is often confused with the Peruvian Hairless Dog. The name Xoloitcuintle makes reference to Xolotl because, historically, one of this dog's missions was to accompany the dead in their journey into eternity. In spite of this prominent place in the mythology, the meat of the Xoloitcuintle was very much part of the diet of some of the ancient peoples of the region.

Anubis, perhaps the best known of the "dog" gods - jackal headed, associated with post-death rituals of embalming and the crucial "Weighing of the Heart" ceremony; also functioned as a protector of the deceased's remains which were crucial to be preserved as a dwelling place for the deceased's spirit to return to nightly. More info at Wikipedia, a good start for info on this extremely ancient wild dog-god.

Among the more familiar goddesses closely associated with dogs (often as harbingers of death and protectors of the deads' spirits):  Artemis, Athena, Sarama, Roman Diana, Lupa.

Gula:  The "Great One" whose name is not known, lost in the mists of time but held the title.  She was a healing goddess and her alter-ego was a dog.  Check out "Going to the Dogs" by Johanna Stuckey. 

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