A new discovery has been unearthed in Mexico City beneath an apartment building: an ancient burial ground for dogs. According to National Geographic, it was the result of an ongoing archaeological dig, conducted in the neighborhood of “Azcapotzalco, in the northwestern part of the sprawling Mexican capital.” There the complete remains of 12 dogs were found, which date back more than 500 years to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
What makes this find so unique is that it is the first time, according to a study released by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) of Mexico, that a burial ground of dogs has been found not associated with humans or buildings. Noted Archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez, “This is definitely a special find…because of the number of dogs and…[lack of a] connection to a building or with the deceased.”
Discovery location part of an ancient Aztec city
At that time, the city of Tenochtitlan lay along the shores of a lake known as Texcoco. The Aztecs used the shoreline of the lake as a local dumping ground (in part to build up the surrounding landmass so as to prevent flooding of the area). Today, the lake is gone, and the area has been paved over with city streets and buildings.
However, the significance of the area cannot be underestimated. Modern archaeologists have been able to uncover any number of ancient artifacts, including “pottery, bone needles, obsidian blades, musical instruments made from human and canine bones…and bones from turkeys and dogs that were served as meals,” according to National Geographic.
Role of canines in ancient Mexico
Yes, dogs were a food source for the Aztecs, but they also had a great symbolic value as well. In Aztec mythology, dogs were seen as guides for the souls of their deceased masters, helping them reach the underworld area of Mictlan, “the place of the dead.” As a result, it was common for dogs to be buried with their human masters. In, fact one of the Aztec gods with strong ties to the underworld, Xolotl, featured a dog-headed being.
However, this new burial site is unusual in that it was solely the purview of dogs; no human bones were found. Perhaps even more remarkable is that no Mexican breeds, such as the techichi or the xoloitzcuintli, were found. Instead the 12 dog skeletons were found to be those of ordinary dogs: medium-sized, with full sets of teeth and of a variety of ages.
Helping to date the dog cemetery was the discovery nearby of pottery in a style known as Aztec III (clay vessels that feature black geometric designs), dating from an archaeological age known as the Late Postclassic (from 1350 to 1520 A.D.), the height of the Aztec empire.
While this unusual discovery, located some four to five feet below street level, has revealed a new sort of find for archaeologists, many questions remain. Scientists hope that more investigation into the bones of the animals may reveal clues about their death or “other evidence that would help scientists figure out why the dogs were laid together in this place for eternity,” according to National Geographic.