S u m m a r y :
4 millennia ago, teenage boys fed on dogs or wolves to become ‘wolf-men’ warriors. The new findings are published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
Dog-Eaters in the Bronze Age
Back during the Bronze Age, teenage boys from southwestern Russia would become wolf-men warriors, a transition that was marked by the sacrifice of dogs or wolves meant to be eaten during initiation ceremonies. The discovery of dog bones with cutting and cooking marks might constitute the first archaeological evidence of these alleged teenager male war bands mentioned in ancient books, argue study authors David Anthony and Dorcas Brown, both from Hartwick College. However, the findings remain controversial and contested by other researchers from the same field of study.
Boys With Dog Names Became Wolf-Men
Ancient texts dating back around 2,000 years ago, written in Indo-European languages, talk of initiation ceremonies whereby young men who were part of male war groups would be associated with dogs and wolves. These youth would be described with names bearing connotations to the animals, and as wearing dog and wolf skins. Moreover, some paragraphs appear to mention dog eating initiation ceremonies. While these myths might not actually come from practices that occurred millennia earlier, the study authors believe that there might be a link between the 2,000-year-old texts, and their discovery of the 4,000-year-old dog bones.
According to the pair of archaeologists, the boy-warriors came from communities of the Timber Grave (the Srubnaya) where war bands were organised in winter rites. The purpose of feeding on canine flesh was to “become dogs and wolves”. Anthony explains that Eurasian myths should be studied with respect to their findings from that particular archaeological site; they found 64 dogs and wolves which were apparently sacrificed at the Krasnosamarskoe settlement.
Dog Meals Brutally Prepared
The dog bones that were recovered display signs of having been butchered and burnt, the latter probably done by roasting. Furthermore, the heads of the animals had been cut into small, 3- to 7-cm-wide pieces. Anthony and Brown explain that the process must have been a violent, ritualistic one that required practice and expertise in the domain. Also, other animal remains, like those of cattle and sheep, from the same site also show butchery marks and cooking.
Did Dog-Eating Wolf-Men Really Exist?
Other archaeologists remain sceptical as to the conclusion of Anthony and Brown. For instance, Marc Vander Linden from the University College London says that “archaeologists can weave mythology and prehistory together, but only with extreme caution”.
What is known from Indo-European mythology is that Late Bronze Age peoples venerated dogs as magical beings, says Vander Linden. According to him, dogs might have been food during certain rituals, but no evidence have been generated to support the existence of teenage warriors consuming on canines during initiation ceremonies.
Dogs with Healing Powers or War Powers?
Another archaeologist, Paul Garwood from the University of Birmingham, adds weight to the scepticism by mentioning how Indo-Europeans of the distant past would believe dogs had healing powers by virtue of absorbing diseases from people such that the animals themselves would not be deemed as healthy food. Garwood thinks that dogs and wolves might have been sacrificed in healing ceremonies without them being offered as food.
Anthony, however, maintains his position, arguing that dog and wolf remains from the Russian site are not associated with healing, but with myths that describe the canines as connected to war bands and initiation rituals. They might not be wrong, says Harvard University expert on Indian ancient texts, and comparative mythology, Michael Witzel, according to whom the new paper is evidence of Indo-European myths about young “wolf-men” who were not bound by the laws of society.
So, the matter of dog-eating teenagers remains controversial, and more research needs to be done to establish whether they existed or not.