Edited by Lynn M. Snyder and Elizabeth A. Moore. Pp. xi + 146, figs. 135, tables 29. Oxbow Books, Oxford 2006. $70. ISBN 1-84217-124-0 (cloth).
The archaeological study of dogs is clearly in the ascendancy. For decades this has been a minority interest, the analysis of these animals buried within the “environmental” sections of excavation reports and monographs, along with the cattle, sheep, pigs, birds, and vermin. It seems to have taken a long time for archaeologists to realize that the dog actually has very limited use as an environmental indicator for the purposes of archaeological interpretation but has enormous value in the understanding of human activity, both practical and spiritual. It is only in recent years that this realization has evolved into academic study, a most welcome innovation and one that should finally do away with that ubiquitous, lame, and incredibly obvious summary at the end of animal bone reports: “Dogs of this period would probably have been kept as guard, herding, or hunting dogs.”
The turning point was the publication of Crockford’s Dogs Through Time: An Archaeological Perspective (Oxford 2000), the proceedings of the first International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) symposium. The range of topics and questions raised in that conference engendered active debate and a wide appreciation of the role of the dog in human society. The work under review here, the collection of papers presented at the 2002 ICAZ Conference, is a direct development of this renewed interest and aims to demonstrate the complexity of the relationship between humans and dogs and to illustrate the combination of practical, ideological, and symbolic elements within that relationship.
The resulting book is an eclectic mix of papers with a strong anthropological content, but this does not detract from its overall value and indeed adds to the readability of the volume. Ranging from description of a dwarf Romano-British individual to a discussion of case studies of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, the papers offer a number of new insights, many of which suggest possible routes of further inquiry for the benefit of archaeological interpretation. It would have been useful if the papers had been arranged in a more logical order, for example those dealing with sacrificial rite, reconstruction of individuals, and modern ethnographic studies, but this is a minor criticism that could be leveled by those who read the book in its entirety rather than those who will refer to individual papers applicable to their own area of study.
Any reader interested in early dogs beyond a purely metrical description will appreciate the findings expressed in some of these papers, including the predilection for fish among dogs of Late Bronze Age Estonia (coprolite analysis) and the primarily herbivorous diet of dog-wolf hybrids of prehispanic Central Mexico (bone strontium and zinc analysis). The discussion of modern religious deposits originating in Afro-Cuban culture is fascinating, even though the dog has only a small part in the story. And the ethnoarchaeological study of chase hunting with gundogs by the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan demonstrates in startling manner how different hunting methods—in this case dogs and snares—can produce differing age profiles of killed animals. This has significant implications for the traditional archaeozoological interpretation of seasonality through such profiles.
Despite its rather ponderous and all-embracing title, this collection is not, of course, a comprehensive iteration of current research and thinking, nor is it geographically even-handed. Some readers may also consider that, while the more ethnographic work can be innovative and illuminating, some of the archaeological papers still tend to be reinventing the wheel. However, this is, on the whole, a volume of highly interesting, readable, and well-illustrated works and deserves to be on the bookshelf of every archaeozoologist.
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Book Review of Dogs and People in Social, Working, Economic or Symbolic Interaction, edited by Lynn M. Snyder and Elizabeth A. Moore
Reviewed by Kate Clark
American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 4 (October 2007), published online at www.ajaonline.org/online-review-book/