For the first time, facial reconstruction technology commissioned by the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) reveals the face of a Neolithic dog that once walked with its human companions some 4,000 years ago.
And, oh my goodness, if you don’t think ancient doggos are the cutest thing ever then GTFO.
The dog skull was first found more than a century ago in Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn on an island in Scotland’s Orkney Archipelago. Built between 3,000 and 2,400 BCE, the four-celled cairn is a prime example of a Neolithic chamber tomb used for ancient burials by some of the region’s earliest agricultural communities. In 1901, 24 dog skulls and their bones were excavated from the tomb along with at least eight humans.
In the decades that followed, new technologies like radiocarbon dating showed that the dog bones were placed in the chamber more than 500 years after the passage tomb was built, suggesting the dogs played an important role in ancient human society and were buried for ritualistic purposes.
“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,” said HES interpretation manager Steve Farrar in a statement.
“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.’”
Flash forward to 2019, when researchers CT-scanned one of the dog skulls in order to make a 3D print. This was then turned over to forensic artist Amy Thornton in order to create a realistic model of the dog’s head, muscle, skin, and hair – all of which are particularly challenging given the limited existing data, such as tissue depths, in canine skulls. Thornton built a clay sculpture from the 3D print using traditional methods and then cast it in silicone, finishing it in a fur coat resembling that of a European grey wolf. Researchers suggest the dog was around the size of a modern collie.
Reconstructions have been made of people from the Neolithic era, but HES says this is the first attempt to reconstruct an animal from this time to their knowledge.
“Looking at this dog helps us better relate to the people who cared for and venerated these animals, people whose ingenuity and sophistication made Orkney such an important place in the Neolithic and who have left us with such a rich legacy of monuments today,” said Farrar.