National Geographic Daily News
Photo of the dog bones in situ.

The dogs' skeletons were well preserved, but their burial follows no discernable pattern.

Photograph by Melitón Tapia, INAH

A. R. Williams

National Geographic

Published February 18, 2014

Archaeologists in Mexico City have made an extraordinary discovery—the skeletons of 12 dogs all mysteriously buried together more than 500 years ago, in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

Dog burials have been uncovered before at archaeological digs, but this is a first such finding not associated with a building or a human burial, according to a report published in Spanish last week by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

Dogs were important symbolically in Aztec mythology. They were believed to serve their masters even after death, guiding the soul of the deceased through the many hazardous layers of the underworld to reach Mictlan, the place of the dead. Also, a god known as Xolotl—sometimes depicted with the head of a dog—had strong ties to the underworld.

Whether the Aztecs associated the buried dogs with such symbolism is still unknown. The researchers hope that the burial offers deeper insights into how dogs were regarded by the residents of the chief city of the Aztecs.

Pet Cemetery

Working in an area measuring 6.5 square feet (two square meters), the archaeologists discovered the canine remains between 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) and 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) below the current street level.

The skeletons were mostly complete and well preserved, but their burial follows no particular pattern that the archaeologists could discern.

Photo of the dog bones in situ.
Photograph by Melitón Tapia, INAH
Whether the Aztecs associated the buried dogs with mythological symbolism is still unknown.

The dogs were all of medium height, represent various ages at death, and retained most of their teeth. They were probably common dogs, not native Mexican breeds such as the techichi (known for their short stature) or the xoloitzcuintli (which loses its premolar teeth in adulthood).

Nearby excavation sites yielded a style of pottery known as Aztec III. These orange-clay vessels, decorated in black geometric designs, help date the dogs to the period known as the Late Postclassic, from A.D. 1350 to 1520.

Dog Dinners

The archaeological investigations have been carried out in the neighborhood known as Azcapotzalco, in the northwestern part of the sprawling Mexican capital. During ancient times, this area would have sat on the western shore of the lake known as Texcoco, which is now a dry lakebed completely covered with the city's buildings and streets.

Archaeologists believe that the Aztecs who lived in this neighborhood may have deposited their domestic trash along the lakeshore in order to raise the level of the land and prevent flooding. A variety of domestic artifacts have come to light in the area, such as pottery, bone needles, obsidian blades, musical instruments made from human and canine bones, the carved bone of a deer, and the bones of turkeys and dogs that were served as meals.

Yes, the Aztecs ate dogs. In fact, they raised the animals mostly for food.

The archaeologists working in Azcapotzalco plan to dig deeper to see if they can uncover clues to the meaning of the dog cemetery. Also, an analysis of the bones could reveal the cause of death, possible illnesses or malformations, or other evidence that would help the scientists figure out why the dogs were laid together in this place for eternity.

28 comments
Carriann Shultz
Carriann Shultz

If they raised dogs for food, then it is quite possible that these were sick animals and they had to be disposed of and not consumed for food.

Sometimes archaeology get too wise in their own eyes and don't raise the right questions.

Stella Luna
Stella Luna

It is inaccurate to perpetuate the belief that all Xoloitzcuintli dogs are missing teeth at adulthood. This ancient breed has always come in both hairless and coated varieties -- frequently with both types in the same litter. The coated Xoloitzcuintli does not lose its premolars as an adult. It is only in relatively recent years that the hairless variety has received more attention due to the novelty of its lack of coat.

Cynthia C.
Cynthia C.

Who knows!  Do we really have to worry about finding this out?  Could be some old lady's companions that it broke her heart when she had to eat them, or could just be the remains of the Aztec equivalent of a party.

Red L.
Red L.

Dogs are mans best friend to eternity and beyond.

Paulo Jugger
Paulo Jugger

 Not laid together for Eternity... you have found them...

Paulo Jugger
Paulo Jugger

Not for Eternity... you have found them...

Sheena Burks
Sheena Burks

Kazuyoshi, that is an amazing story, however it noted in the article that there were no human burials near, and also the dogs were not Xoloitzcuintli because they lose their premolar teeth during adulthood. 


Then again, you really sound like you know a lot more about this subject matter than just the measly bit that I just read. I'm honestly not out to "troll" you  :) 

Kazuyoshi Tlacaelel
Kazuyoshi Tlacaelel

Actually, they used to bury a dog with the people that passed away, this is because every single one of the "four" directions (north, east, west and south) had a color, temperature, and a deity associated with them. The North has the color white, cold temperature and the deity is called Mixcoatl, the direction or the land of the north is called Mictlan or Mictlantecutli, Where the temperature is cold, the land were is told that the "Obsidian Butterfly" (itzpapalotl) a butterfly that has blades in its wings flies and slices open the skin of men that dare to go there, in the Mictlan there is a river, that must be crossed by all the people that die. In order to find peace, but they will not find it unless they come with a companion that guides them! That is a xoloitzcuintli dog (aztec dog without hair). And that is why they used to bury dogs with people. I always thought that this was really interesting specially if you relate it to the inuit cultures up north. And how they use dogs that help them find paths. Note that the "Obsidian Butterfly" and Mixcoatl are both squeletical deities that govern the Mictlan. (land of the dead). There is one special occasion were the dead are allowed to leave the Mictlan, that as you may assume is the "day of the dead" mexican celebration that still takes place today, In this day the dead are allowed to leave the Mictlan and visit their relatives for one day. They can also delight themselves with food, that is why the tradition dictates that an offering must be placed.

Dylan Jones
Dylan Jones

What the Aztecs did with dogs seems quite similar to what we do with cows in the cattle industry today.

TAREZ CAKE
TAREZ CAKE

follow me on twitter @ A1_Tarez

Evan Mayo
Evan Mayo

Looks more like random pack got caught in their escape route during an climatic event. No pattern to burial, nor wrapping of the dead material clinging to skin. Also factor no other burials found.

Mushra Rambo
Mushra Rambo

@Cynthia C.  Well, yes, that's sort of the point of archaeology, finding these things out. You new here? 

Stella Luna
Stella Luna

@Sheena Burks -- Sheena, please see my post above. These *may* not be Xoloitzcuintli, but not because they have teeth. Xolos come in both hairless and coated, frequently in the same litter, and the ones with coat have normal teeth. It's only the hairless ones that are usually missing their premolars and have otherwise abnormal (compared to most dogs) teeth. The reason for this is because the gene that causes hairlessness also affects the teeth. (The coated littermates will almost always have normal dentition. You can read more about this in the breed's entry on Wikipedia.)
So... they could have been Xolos, or not. But it has nothing to do with their teeth! :)

Henry Filippone
Henry Filippone

@annie branwen They ate people, too. Cortez was so shocked by the ritual cannibalism that he immediately started to exterminate the people; similarly, the Romans destroyed the druid-type people and religions in Gaul and Britain. Western civilization and cannibalism don't mix. 

Suzanne Barnes
Suzanne Barnes

@annie branwen Peruvians eat Guinea Pigs, iguanas are eaten throughout most parts of Mexico, and a number of countries think that our drinking a liquid that you have to squeeze out of a bovine's udders is waaaay beyond weird. 


Mmmmmmm, diversity!

MJ C.
MJ C.

@Suzanne Barnes  Maybe someday we will all learn that taking any life to eat is wrong.  I'm hopeful! 

Carriann Shultz
Carriann Shultz

@MJ C. @Suzanne BarnesCheck out the Old Testament and what happened after The Flood. I believe most people did not eat animals till after the flood. By the way you are not an idiot.

Stella Luna
Stella Luna

@Elliott Sumner @MJ C.-- Ad-hominem attacks are always a great way to win friends and influence people... NOT.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion...

Elliott Sumner
Elliott Sumner

@MJ C. You're far too liberal. Are you also going to enforce that logic with wild animals? Idiot. 

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