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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Survey Studies Shang Dynasty Dog Sacrifices

Thursday, May 9, 2019

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Roderick Campbell of New York University and Zhipeng Li of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reviewed the burials of sacrificed dogs from multiple Shang Dynasty sites, according to a Live Science report, and found that nearly three-quarters were under one year of age at the time of death. The Shang Dynasty ruled the area known as the Yellow River Valley, which covers much of northern China, from about 1600 to 1050 B.C. In many cases, the dogs’ remains were placed in pits located beneath the torso of the grave’s human occupant. Some of the animals may have even been buried alive. Had the animals been pets, Campbell explained, the researchers would have found dogs of a much wider range of ages. Inscriptions on oracle bones suggest that dogs were sacrificed as offerings to the gods of the sky. The puppies may have also been intended to represent the services of a guard dog for the deceased in the afterlife. The dogs may have been bred for the purpose of sacrifice, but Campbell said it was more likely they were captured strays. For more on dogs of the past, go to “The American Canine Family Tree.”

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