1000 Y.O MOMIFIED ITALIAN GREYHOUND FOUND IN MEXICO
The dog will soon undergo DNA tests and carbon-dating, authorities say. (Mexico's National Institute…)
MEXICO CITY — For nearly 50 years, the mummified remains of a dog believed to have lived 1,000 years ago sat forgotten in a school museum in north-central Mexico.
That meant, among other things, that no one got to admire the ancient dog's irresistible facial expression.
The canine, which has no name, appears in recently released photographs lying on its side as if relaxing. Its expression is serene and somehow friendly.
Archaeologists say the mummified male dog is about 1,000 years old, but other than that, little is known about it, including whether it is a xoloitzcuintle, the indigenous Mexican hairless dog, because of its curious shape.
The specimen was pulled from the Cave of the Candelaria, a 30-foot-deep ancient burial site in the semidesert region known as La Laguna, by government researchers in 1953. Along with the dog, archaeologists found textiles, ceramics, arrowheads and mummified figures such as a 3-year-old child wrapped in a rope.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History says
it was eventually stored at the museum of the Escuela de
Bachilleres Venustiano Carranza, a state school in the city
It lay there, in effect forgotten, until August, when the
institute's archaeologists at the Regional Museum of
La Laguna examined the school's holdings, found
the dog and determined that it hadn't been properly
studied. Authorities said the dog will soon undergo DNA
tests and carbon-dating.
Jaime Alejandro Bautista, the institute's subdirector of
public records, said the mummified remains would prove
telling if they turned out to be those of a xoloitzcuintle
— pronounced "cho-los-kuint-leh." It would push the
border of the breed's native region significantly
farther north than the Mesoamerican region of central
and southern Mexico. It could also suggest that nomadic
northern peoples such as Chichimecas had earlier contact than previously thought with urbanizing pre-Hispanic societies such as the Aztecs.
"We know that dogs are associated with funeral rites in pre-Hispanic societies, so it is likely that it was deposited there intentionally," Bautista said. "The dog mummified naturally, due to the conditions of the microclimate in the cave."
Its skin, or what's left of it, is coated in a varnish, a preservation-minded mistake years ago by an unknown custodian, Bautista said.
"We just lost track of it. At the time, an adequate museum did not exist to receive it," he said.
Indeed, the northern region of Mexico is sorely understudied by anthropologists and archaeologists in comparison with the deeply studied Mesoamerican region. There are even fewer U.S. specialists — "five or six," by one count — who concentrate on the north and who might be able to independently comment on the rare mummified dog.
The dog could be put on display at the Regional Museum of La Laguna as early as mid-2013
The Italian Greyhound is the smallest of the family of greyhounds (dogs that hunt by sight). The breed is an old one and is believed to have originated more than 4,000 years ago in the countries now known as Greece and Turkey. This belief is based on the depiction of miniature greyhounds in the early decorative arts of these countries and on the archaeological discovery of small greyhound skeletons. By the Middle Ages, the breed had become distributed throughout Southern Europe and was later a favorite of the Italians of the sixteenth century, among whom miniature dogs were in great demand. Sadly, though, 'designer' breeders tried, and failed, to make the breed even smaller by crossbreeding it with other breeds of dogs. This only led to mutations with deformed skulls, bulging eyes and dental problems. The original Italian Greyhound had almost disappeared when groups of breeders got together and managed to return the breed to normal. From this period onward the history of the breed can be fairly well traced as it spread through Europe, arriving in England in the seventeenth century.