December 7, 2018 — Train a dog well enough and it’ll fetch, sit and roll over. And as local archaeologists recently discovered, well-trained Croatian dogs can not only play dead… they can find the dead as well.
Researchers from the University of Zadar uncovered a 3,000-year-old settlement and necropolis on the Velebit Mountian using a state-of-the-art technology: canines, whose uncanny capacity for recognizing the odor of human remains led to the discovery of prehistoric remains, according to Zadarski List. It’s the first time dogs specializing in finding human bodies uncovered prehistoric remains.
“This method is excellent because dogs locate the scent of a decayed human body, which is specific to human beings,” said Vedrana Glavaš, a post-graduate at the University of Zadar’s Archeology Department heading up the dig. “No other creature smells like a human.”
The methods are so novel, Glavaš and Andrea Pintar, the dogs’ owner and trainer, published an article in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory detailing their work and the viability of dogs as archeological sleuths.
Researchers deployed the dogs as furry corpse detectors, marking and digging anywhere the pups detected human remains. So far, it’s worked, Glavaš said. Granted, it’s a bit morbid.
Carbon dating indicates the dogs’ discovery at Drvišica, near Karlobag, predates Christ by about 800 years. The age of the remains make it difficult identify which group or clan the people belonged to.
“Human remains detection dogs” have been used to find the recently-deceased and slightly older remains, though there aren’t too many in Europe. None up until now have found remains that predate Christ.
The team from the University of Zadar used four dogs: three Belgian sheepdogs and one German shepherd, owned by Andrey Pintar from the S-PAS Center.
Glavaš said the dogs offer more than quick discoveries. They also allow for precision, reducing the odds of accidentally damaging a site.
Glavaš said the researchers have been using the dogs since 2015. They first tested them on three already-discovered grave sites to see if the dogs could pick up the scent of ancient remains. The researchers then unleashed them on potential sites, and have been following the pooches’ noses ever since.
The dogs are now pointing to a complex site made up of a prehistoric necropolis, a Roman settlement, a fortress, a church and a road.
Glavaš foresees further uses for such pups beyond just archeology, including finding mass graves — a perpetual issue in Croatia after the 1990s war left a long list of still-missing victims.
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