Fri. Apr 10th, 2020

Study reveals the existence of miniature dogs during the Roman Empire

Archeologists of the University of Granada (UGR), with the participation of scientists from the Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences and the Institute of History of the CSIC in Madrid, have revealed in a study that the Romans they already had miniature dogs as companion animals more than 2,000 years ago.

The size of these dogs was similar to that of some current small breeds such as the Pekingese or some types of chihuahua, the UGR reported in a statement on Monday. The work presents the zooarchaeological, osteometric, paleopathological and biochemistry study of isotopes, related to various burials of dogs found in the Roman necropolis of Llanos del Pretorio, outside the walls of Roman Cordoba and related to nearly seventy human burials.


They have found the skeleton of a dog about 20cm high, shortened limbs and a flat nose

“In particular, a small dog (a little more than 20 centimeters tall), shortened limbs and a flat nose, which we have found in a grave next to children’s human burials, especially stands out,” explained the main author of this work, Rafael M Martínez Sánchez, from the Department of Prehistory and Archeology of the University of Granada.

The finding constitutes one of the oldest recognized cases of micromorphic dogs in the whole of the Roman empire. It is difficult to know the external appearance of this animal only by the bones – long or short fur, color or morphology of the ears – but its skeletal structure is similar to current small-sized breeds.

A skeleton of the dog found by researchers at the University of Granada

A skeleton of the dog found by researchers at the University of Granada

Among the pathological aspects stands out an old hip injury and the fact of showing traumatic evidence that points to a deliberate sacrifice. The study of stable isotopes through bone collagen and dental enamel points to a different origin for this specimen, surely foreign to the city environment and perhaps of distant origin.

Companion animal from classical antiquity

The existence of small dogs as pets, objects of affection and special consideration for their owners, has been known since classical antiquity, a fact corroborated by texts, epigraphy and iconography, Martínez Sánchez has pointed out. Classic authors like Pliny the Elder and Claudio Elianor they cite the taste of the urban classes for these animals, of which even funerary epigraphs have come to be known not unlike those known to beloved servants or slaves.

The discovery, among other examples, of a small animal with a brachycephalic skull in a necropolis from the first half of the 1st century AD. in the south of Hispania It opens new interpretations regarding the role of this type of animal in the relations between dogs and humans at the beginning of Our Age in the western Roman world, and its symbolic implications in funeral rituals.

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