Would you ever eat your dog? Although cynophagy is no longer a popular practice in Western culture (except when there is a crisis or scarcity), it was a common practice among our ancestors. Atapuerca’s research team discovered that El Portalon de la Cueva Mayor de Atapuerca (Burgos), had already eaten dog meat over 7,000 years.

The sample, together with El Mirador de la Sierra de Atapuerca’s Holocene sites, is the oldest evidence of cynophagy on the Iberian Peninsula. It records dogs being consumed over a long time span (from the Neolithic through the Age of Bronze) within a single region of the Iberian Peninsula.

The specialists analysed 130 bones of dogs that were found at three levels of occupation (Neolithic Chalcolithic and Bronze Age). During the careful excavations, they identified various signs of human activity, including cuts, intentional fractures and evidence of alteration by fire, burning, and possibly human bites.

“What we found was that the Neolithic Levels’ remains with anthropic markings were very rare (23 total), so we think that dog consumption was not yet established. The hypothesis we are currently considering is that this product was either an exotic or a product that was consumed during times of scarcity and famine. The remains of the Chalcolithic levels (5,000-4,000 years old) as well as the Bronze Age (between 4,000 and 2,000 years) are abundant (26, 81, respectively). These marks are similar to those found in bones of other animals that are habitually consumed, such as sheep or cows. This indicates that the product was part of their daily diet,” says Nuria Garcia Garcia Garcia, who is one of the researchers.

The main problem of paleontological research was to identify the remains of the dog (Canis familiaris) and differentiate them from the wolf (Canis latus lupus). This is because there are very few morphological differences between bones from both species. Because the size of the samples was smaller than that of the wolf, it was one of the key diagnostic criteria for determining their identity.

Dog’s jaw taken from the Portalon Neolithic levels. / Nohemi Room

Researchers from the University of Burgos’ Laboratory of Human Evolution (LEH), the CENIEH and the Joint Center UCM–Carlos III Health Institute, the Regional Archaeological Museum of Alcala de Henares and the Complutense University of Madrid contributed to this article, which was published in the international journal Archaelogical and Anthropological Sciences.