Friday, April 10, 2009

Dog sacrifices in Medieval Hungary

An article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (Vol.4:2 March-April 2009) has revealed that in archaeological investigation of a medieval Hungarian village there seems to have been the practice of dog sacrifices. Researchers found in the village of Ka'na, which was inhabited from the 10th to 13th century, over a dozen dogs buried under house foundations, and ten more placed in special pits. Four puppy skeletons were found under vessels buried upside down in pits.

Márta Daróczi-Szabó, an archaeozoologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, wrote, "although such finds appear out of place in a Christian village, their sheer presence reflects the unique role played by dogs in an unofficial popular belief system existing in parallel to formal religion at thismedieval rural settlement in Hungary.

"Dogs would have had many roles in people’s lives in a medieval Hungarian village, sometimes serving as guard dogs, herding dogs, or stray pariah dogs, scavenging near the houses and on the village roads. Their many-sided relationship with people is also reflected in finds that may be called 'sacrificial.'"

Christianity came to dominate the region after the first king of Hungary, Stephen I, began his rule in A.D. 1000. Under his reign, pagan rituals such as animal sacrifices were explicitly banned.

The fact that pagan customs such as animal sacrifice persisted for centuries side-by-side with the church is surprising, noted University of Edinburgh archaeozoologist László Bartosiewicz, in an interview with National Geographic.

"One wouldn't expect these practices in Christian times," said Bartosiewicz, who did not participate in the new study. "It's exciting to see what was sacred and profane back then. The great number of sacrifices we see [in Kana] will significantly improve our chances of interpreting what their meaning was. It's probably the find of a lifetime. I can't imagine lucking upon anything else of this scope."