Ancient Chinese Dynasty Buried Puppies Alive During Rituals

Multiple “waist pit” dog interments observed in an Anyang tomb. Archaeological Research in Asia

An analysis of decades' worth of archaeological literature suggests that the Shang Dynasty, which ruled northeastern China between 1700 and 1027 BCE, mostly sacrificed puppies – even burying some alive.

The second of China’s ancient dynasties, the Shang ruled the Yellow River Valley during the Bronze Age and practiced both human and animal sacrifice to honor the gods and protect humans into the afterlife. To see how human’s best friend influenced funerary practices in the region, researchers reviewed existing literature on the dynasty and compared it with archaeological discoveries and data collected from multiple known sites. They found that dogs were often buried below the waist of the dead, possibly acting as a guard dog, or were otherwise sacrificed to the gods, notes Live Science.

"Puppies, that sounds horrible," study author Roderick Campbell told the publication. "Why would you sacrifice a cute little puppy? On the other hand, if it's not your puppy and if you're living in a society where you don't have the same assumptions of dogs and cuteness… it's a cheaper investment in the animal. You don't have to raise it yourself."

A sacrificial pit excavated in Zhengzhou Province in 2001. Archaeological Research in Asia 

Publishing their work in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia, the scientists write that sacrificing animals such as pigs, sheep, cattle, and goats goes back millennia and transcended the classes; both elites and commoners practiced it, though how it was conducted depended on localized culture. Specifically, dog sacrifice goes back as far as 9,000 years ago and typically followed one of two paths: they either accompanied the deceased “in burial contexts as pets, guards, or assistance in the next world” or were deposited in sacrificial pits as offerings to spirits and ancestors. Inscriptions found on oracle bones suggest that the dogs were mostly sacrificed to the gods of the sky.

Most notably, dogs started turning up in human burials during the Erligang culture around 1,500 BC and found in places similar to where human sacrifices were found, buried below a tomb or interred on a ledge. It was first thought that these dogs were pets, but analysis indicates that almost three-quarters were less than a year old when they died, and 37 percent were younger than six months. If dogs were pets, it’s more likely that canines of all ages would have been found buried alongside their human owners. Rather, it’s likely that these animals were either raised purely for ritual economy or were strays taken from the streets.

One dig in Zhengzhou found 92 dogs bound and placed in eight separate pits, some of which were most likely buried alive. Another location known as Xiaomintun found 2,000 human graves, almost one-third of which had dead dogs in them, most of them juveniles.  

It’s possible that the puppy burials were used to substitute human sacrifices. Elite classes during this time often sacrificed concubines or slaves, but young puppies and strays could have been a cheaper alternative for the poorer classes. Plus, puppies would have been rather plentiful considering spaying and neutering wasn’t a common practice.

A Shang mortuary dog seen buried with a bronze bell. Archaeological Research in Asia 

[H/T: Live Science]

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