International Dog Day and Archaeology

Most of you are aware that Wednesday was International Dog Day 2020, which made me think about the presence of dogs in the Newfoundland and Labrador archaeological record. Initially, when I started looking, I could not find much evidence, but the more I looked, the more I found little bits and pieces.

For example, a new paper released just this spring is entitled Diversity in Labrador Inuit sled dog diets: Insights from δ13C and δ15N analysis of dog bone and dentine collagen. Written by nine authors, the lead being former MUN graduate student Alison J.T. Harris, the first sentence from the abstract in the article will surprise no one: Sled dogs were an integral part of Labrador Inuit life from the initial expansion and settlement of northeastern Canada to the present day. One of the things the Inuit are known for is their large and powerful Huskies. The paper discusses how the authors conducted stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis on the skeletal remains of at least 35 dogs from Labrador archaeological sites. The authors found that ”…dog diets were largely composed of marine mammal protein, but that dogs on the north coast consumed more caribou and fish relative to dogs from the central and south coast sites. The diets of dogs from Double Mer Point were the most heterogenous of any site…” (Double Mer is located at the mouth of Groswater Bay). Another researcher who studied archaeologically recovered dog remains was Eric Guiry, who wrote his Master’s thesis at MUN entitled Dogs as analogs in stable isotope-based human paleodietary reconstructions: Assessing the Canine Surrogacy Approach. Guiry used domestic dog bone collagen from archaeological sites to address questions about human diets in the past by assuming that, for the most part, dogs would have consumed the scraps from human meals. Guiry and Grimes also wrote a related paper called Domestic dog (Canis familiaris) diets among coastal Late Archaic groups of northeastern North America: A case study for the canine surrogacy approach, which was based partially on dog remains recovered from Port au Choix.

Field sketch of Archaic period dog remains recovered at Port au Choix studied by Guiry & Grimes.

Dog remains have been recovered on European archaeological sites. During the 2012 field season, archaeologists at Ferryland excavated a well associated with a kitchen, which served as part of a two-unit service wing for George Calvert’s 17th-century mansion house. The archaeologists were unsure if the well was associated with the Calvert era or something much more recent. The first 8 feet of the well contained 18th- and 19th-century material culture including the remains of a large dog that most likely fell into what was by then an abandoned well and perished (Gaulton & Tuck 2012).

In situ dog skull found in well fill found in Ferryland in 2012.

As the foregoing examples illustrate, dog remains have been recovered from archaeological sites, but what direct evidence do we have for dogs in the archaeology record in Newfoundland and Labrador?

From the Inuit example, we know sled dogs were commonly used in Labrador. Most of the time, artifacts associated with this activity consist of objects variously referred to as a dog trace buckle, toggles for dog harnesses, or a dog trace toggle/buckle; essentially, they are part of the harness system for dogs pulling sleds. As it turns out, there is not a lot of variety of dog-related artifacts, but there are plenty of examples of these few types. To quote one MUN archaeology professor in reference to these dog toggles or buckles, ‘…we have found loads of them over the years.’

Second from the left whale-bone toggle for dog harness from Labrador (Loring & Arendt 2009)
A trace buckle recovered from Huntingdon Island 5 in Sandwich Bay, Labrador (Rankin).
Whalebone dog trace toggle from Labrador Pritchard 2011.

To my knowledge, there is no archaeological evidence that the Innu, who live in Quebec and Labrador today, kept dogs prior to the 17th century. However, we know they had dogs historically because the Innu themselves can tell us about their history. As well, there are historic photos showing dogs with the Innu and numerous accounts of dogs with the Innu by clergy, explorers, anthropologists and ethnographers and accounts of cultural norms that incorporate dogs and dog behaviour. For example, 17th-century clergy recorded, “They have superstitions against profaning certain bones of elk, beaver and other beasts or letting dogs gnaw them.” Speck 1935:76. Speck also records in several places in his 1935 book Naskapi: The Savage Hunters of the Labrador Peninsula that the Innu routinely used dogs to track game and haul sleds.

Man, woman, child and dog, outside dwelling. Part of the Frank Speck Papers dealing with the Montagnais-Naskapi.

We know the people of the Archaic period kept dogs, along with those discussed above. Archaic period dog remains were recovered in Crow Head cave at Port au Choix (Harris and Grimes 2016: 59). It is clear the Inuit had dogs and the Innu had dogs, at least historically. However, at least two groups of people in Newfoundland and Labrador’s past may not have had dogs.

To my knowledge, there is no archaeological evidence that the Beothuk had dogs. In fact, there are stories of the Beothuk being nervous or frightened by dogs. For example, there is an incident recorded in Herring Neck that is variously told: the Beothuk approached a European house but seem to have been scared off by barking dogs (Marshall 1996:98, Howley 1915: 275). Thomas Peyton, John Peyton Jr’s son, recalled that Shanawdithit would run to John Peyton Jr. when Noel Boss, or even his dog, made his appearance (Marshall 1996: 190). These stories suggest the Beothuk did not have dogs or certainly were not used to them. Also, as recorded in Marshall 1996, neither John Guy (1612) nor Capt. David Buchan (1811, 1820), both of whom met Beothuk and saw their houses, mention dogs in their writings. John Cartwright, in his 1768 report on Beothuk settlements, specifically noted, “providence has even denied them the pleasing services and companionship of the faithful dog.” (1996:332). To date, dog remains have not been recovered from a Beothuk site seemingly corroborating these stories. Despite this, an informant who was part of the capture of Demasduit in 1819 records seeing a “bitch and her whelps, about two months old” in one of the Beothuk houses (Marshall 1996:333).

The other group that does not seem to have had dogs are the Dorset Pre-Inuit. The Dorset site of Phillip’s Garden on the Port au Choix Peninsula is known for many things: its sheer size, the number of house structures and its organic preservation. In fact, the organic preservation was so good that the first archaeologist who worked there was overwhelmed by the organics and he just started recording how many handfuls of bone came out of each excavation unit.  Despite this, there have been no dog remains recovered from the site. Curiously, like the Inuit and Innu, we know the Dorset had sleds for hauling gear- Wells & Renouf wrote an entire paper on just Dorset sled-shoe design from Port au Choix (2014) – but there is no evidence they had dogs haul them. It is suggested that these sleds were pulled by hand.

Given the long history of dogs in the Province’s archaeological record, why were the Dorset and Beothuk, to paraphrase Cartwright, denied the pleasing services and companionship of the faithful dog? We may never know.

Sled shoes recovered from the Dorset site of Phillip’s Garden (Wells 2012).

Gaulton, Barry and James Tuck
2013  Archaeology at Ferryland, Newfoundland, 2012. Provincial Archaeology Office 2012 Archaeology Review Volume 11

Guiry, Eric
2012  Dogs as analogs in stable isotope-based human paleodietary reconstructions: Assessing the Canine Surrogacy Approach. MA, MUN.

Guiry, Eric and Vaughan Grimes
2013  Domestic dog (Canis familiaris) diets among coastal Late Archaic groups of northeastern North America: A case study for the canine surrogacy approach. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32, pgs.732–745

Harris, Alison J.T. et. al.
2020  Diversity in Labrador Inuit sled dog diets: Insights from δ13C and δ15N analysis of dog bone and dentine collagen. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

Harris, Alison and Vaughan Grimes
2016  The Dogs of Crow Head Cave (EeBi-04). Provincial Archaeology Office 2015 Archaeology Review March 2016 Volume 14.

Howley, James
1915  The Beothucks or Red Indians, The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland.

Loring, Stephen and Beatrix Arendt
2009  ‘…they gave Hebron, the city of refuge…’ (Joshua 21-13): An archaeological reconnaissance at Hebron, Labrador Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 1.

Marshall, Ingeborg
1996  A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk.

Pritchard, Brian
2011  Snooks Cove Archaeology Project: Report on Field Season 2. Provincial Archaeology Office 2010 Archaeology  Review Volume 9

Speck, Frank
1935  Naskapi: The Savage Hunters of the Labrador Peninsula.

Wells, Patty
2012  Social Life and Technical Practice- An Analysis Of The Osseous Tool Assemblage At The Dorset Palaeoeskimo Site Of Phillip’s Garden, Newfoundland. Ph.D, MUN.

Wells, Patty and Priscilla Renouf
2014  Dorset Sled-Shoe Design and Cold Season Transport at Phillip’s Garden (EeBi-1), Northwestern Newfoundland. Arctic Anthropology, 51(1), pp. 1–23.

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