In the modern world, we adore our canine companions. We regularly spend staggering amounts on their care, upkeep and happiness. But that wasn't always the case. In ancient times, when man and beast were first gaining an alliance, they were still more or less camp followers that humans tolerated. Dogs gradually wormed their way into our hearts, though, as evidenced by a 14,000-year-old burial of a puppy with distemper.
According to Live Science, a grave that was unearthed in 1914 in what is now Oberkassel, a suburb of Bonn in western Germany, contained the skeletal remains of two dogs, along with two humans that were presumably their owners. The younger of the two animals showed evidence of "a serious case of morbillivirus," aka canine distemper.
Ancient Animal Burials
While the animal's contraction of the disease itself is not wholly unusual, it appears the dog was cared for by humans for a prolonged period of time before finally succumbing to the illness and was then given an elevated burial status and laid to rest with a man and a woman who perished between the ages of 25 and 40. The other dog found in the grave was thought to be older.
Luc Janssens, a veterinarian and doctoral student of archaeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands and the lead researcher in this case, noted that the younger dog was about 28 weeks old when it died. A dental analysis showed that the pup likely contracted the disease at around 3 to 4 months of age, and likely had two or even three periods of serious illness, each lasting up to six weeks.
"While it was sick, the dog would not have been of any practical use as a working animal," Janssens said. "This, together with the fact that the dogs were buried with people, who[m] we may assume were their owners, suggests that there was a unique relationship of care between humans and dogs as long as 14,000 years ago."
As recently as 1,800 years ago there were pet cemeteries, as discovered by archeologists in Egypt working on a site along the coast of the Red Sea. But 14,000 years ago is far earlier than scientists ever believed humans had formed the kinds of attachments with dogs to warrant the kind of care and burial this puppy apparently received. This places the bond thousands of years earlier than was previously suspected.
Fortunately, canine distemper is not transmissible to humans and there is a vaccination for it now that has drastically reduced the incidence of the disease along with its mortality rate, but it can still be found in unvaccinated animals as well as tigers and Amur leopards. Spare your pets by having them vaccinated at an early age and make annual checkups with your veterinarian a regular part of your pet's health regimen.