National Geographic News
Young boys learn traditional fighting in a school near Samara, Russia.

Young men in Russia, like those pictured above, have long been taught traditional methods of fighting—but did Bronze Age initiation rites for boys 'destined' to become warriors involve animal sacrifice?

Photograph by Yulia Rubtsova, ITAR-TASS/Alamy

Dog skull fragments.

Chopped dog skull fragments. Photograph courtesy Dorcas Brown

Heather Pringle

for National Geographic

Published May 14, 2013

At first, archaeologists Dorcas Brown and David Anthony were deeply puzzled. While excavating the Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarkskoe in Russia's Volga region, they unearthed the bones of at least 51 dogs and 7 wolves. All the animals had died during the winter months, judging from the telltale banding pattern on their teeth, and all were subsequently skinned, dismembered, burned, and chopped with an ax.

Moreover, the butcher had worked in a precise, standardized way, chopping the dogs' snouts into three pieces and their skulls into geometrically shaped fragments just an inch or so in size. "It was very strange," says Anthony.

To him and Brown, both of whom teach at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, the skilled and standardized method of butchering the dogs pointed to some sort of ritual. Pam Crabtree, an archaeozoologist at New York University, who was not a member of the team, agrees. She notes that the butchery pattern was entirely different from those used in prehistoric Europe and other parts of the world for slicing off dog meat to eat.

"The bone was chopped into small bits, and it was not the way you would do it if you were looking at getting the major muscle groups," Crabtree says.

So how to account for the mysterious remains at Krasnosamarskoe? Why did someone apparently sacrifice these animals?

Ancient Rite of Passage

In search of clues, Anthony and Brown combed the mythology, songs, and scriptures in Eurasia's early and closely related Indo-European languages. Many ancient Indo-European speakers associated dogs with death and the underworld. Reading through prayers composed by tribes in India possibly as early as 1400 B.C., the researchers found a description of secret initiation rites for boys destined to become roving warriors.

At the age of eight, the boys were sent to ritualists, who bathed them, shaved their heads, and gave them animal skins to wear. Eight years later, the initiates underwent a midwinter ceremony in which they ritually died and journeyed to the underworld. After this, the boys left their homes and families, painted their bodies black, donned a dog-skin cloak, and joined a band of warriors.

Brown and Anthony think that similar rites may have taken place at Krasnosamarskoe at the onset of the raiding season, which ran from the winter solstice to the summer solstice. And they speculate that part of the ceremony required the boys to kill their own dogs. The dead canines ranged in age from 7 to 12 years, suggesting that they were longtime companionspossibly even hounds raised with the boys from birth.

"That makes a lot of sense," concludes Brown. To take on the mantle of a warrior, an innocent boy had to become a killer.

Recent research conducted by military psychologists, moreover, suggests that the transition from civilian to soldier can be very difficult. In other words, "you have to train people to kill," says Brown.

For the Bronze Age boys at Krasnosamarskoe, this training may have included killing one of their childhood companionstheir faithful dog.

William L Reyna Jr
William L Reyna Jr

Well Krish, Will Rogers once wrote, " If there are no dogs in heaven,
then when I die I want to go where they went".

John Edwards
John Edwards

This history sounds a lot like what the Greek Spartan males had gone through in part similar. 

Please consider the following reference. 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An artistic representation of Spartan exercise, part of the agoge for young Spartan males. Females, however, were encouraged to exercise with the males.

The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic Greek, or ἀγωγά, agōgá in Doric Greek) was the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to the Spartan group, military training (e.g. pain tolerance), hunting, dancing, singing and social (communicating) preparation.[1] The word "agoge" meant in ancient Greek, rearing, but in this context generally meant leading, guidance or training.[2]

According to folklore, agoge was introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus but its origins are thought to be between the 7th and 6th centuries BC[3][4] when the state trained male citizens from the ages of seven to twenty-one.

The Bronze Age in Russia (howbeit this article does not give a closer date from when to end). "We have discovered a civilisation dating from the 16th to the 14th centuries BC, high in the mountains south of Kislovodsk," in Russia's North Caucasus region, Andrei Belinsky, the head of a joint Russian-German expedition that has been investigating the region for five years, told AFP. -

Which represents my view that not a whole lot can be said for anything new under the sun. Changes occur but there seems to be links from man (first) to man (last) which we haven't seen yet. Who knows may be he's us.

Krish Pillai
Krish Pillai

When Dharmaputra (the eldest of the Pandavas)  climbs the Himalayas with his brothers and his wife on their final voyage, they are accompanied by their faithful dog. All of his relatives, even the great warrior Arjuna, eventually fall to their death on the basis of some unforgivable act they had done in their time of living. In the end Dharmaputra alone makes it to the summit with his dog. He is then told by the almighty to abandon his dog in order to enter heaven ... and he refuses! 


@heather levingstone Back then it was not likely that they had resources to spare to raise a pet, such as a Hamster, just for enjoyment or companionship. Also to make them warrior killers, it took more than just a hunting killing.

Daniel Rivas
Daniel Rivas

@Krish Pillai 

I've been looking for this story on the internet with little luck.  Where can I find this story?


Popular Stories

The Future of Food

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

See more food news, photos, and videos »