The remains of the dog and the girl were buried at the Seminario Vescovile near Verona, Italy

Lafranchi et al. (CC-BY 4.0)

Iron Age people in northern Italy were sometimes buried with their dogs or horses – possibly just because they loved them.

Archaeologists have often suspected that the ancient, universal practice of including animals in human graves was associated with high socioeconomic status, beliefs about the afterlife, or traditions within certain families. But after thorough investigation, researchers are now beginning to wonder whether such “co-burials” were simply an expression of love for a nonhuman family member, he says. Marco Malela at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

He and his colleagues reexamined bones excavated from the 2,200-year-old cemetery of Seminario Vescovile, just east of Verona in Italy, where Cenomanians lived in metalworking communities before and during the Roman conquest. .

Most of the 161 graves found at the site contain the remains of only one person, but 16 also contain animals, either whole or in parts. 12 of these were pork or beef products, apparently as food offerings to the dead. Zeta LafranchiAlso at the University of Bern.

However, four others were buried with dogs or horses or both, which were not used for food in this population. Among them a middle-aged man with a small dog, a young man with a horse, a 9-month-old girl with a dog and – most unexpectedly – a middle-aged woman with a pony. Above it and placed a dog’s head above it.

“At first the excavators were surprised to see human legs under a horse, and the first thought was: here we have a horseman, here we have a warrior,” says Lafranchi. But the woman was buried without weapons, suggesting that she was not associated with the war, along with the 1.3-meter-tall pony.

The team found no significant trends in the ages of people buried with animals, and DNA analyzes showed they were not genetically related. Chemical analysis of these bodies showed no difference in diet – which would be linked to socio-economic status – compared to those only in human graves.

The researchers say the findings point to the possibility that people in ancient populations felt so connected to their animals that their loved ones chose to bury them together. “And why not?” Milella says. “We certainly can’t rule it out.”

Another explanation could be that the animals had symbolic meaning for the afterlife, the researchers added. For example, in Gallo-Roman religion, Epona, the Celtic goddess of horses, was believed to protect people after death.. And Gallo-Roman too apparently Dogs are sometimes associated with the afterlife.. In fact, dogs may have been intended to be buried with infants. Protect parents from harm to future children..

Nevertheless, the animals in the tombs seem to have benefited from good human care rather than being disposable stock – especially the dogs, which have been fed human food and show signs of wound healing and healing. .

As such, it’s also possible that people were buried with animals for both symbolic and affectionate reasons, Melilla says.