An archaeological site south of Sydney has investigated 2,000-year-old dingo bones, buried alongside, and in the same way, as the Indigenous people of the area.
“In all areas in which the burials are recorded, the process and methods of disposal are identical or almost identical to those associated with human rites in the same area,” says lead author, Australian National University’s Dr Loukas Koungoulos.
“This reflects the close bond between people and dingoes and their almost-human status.”
The research has been published in PLOS One.
Dingoes arrived in Australia somewhere in the region of 4,000-8,000 years ago, long after Aboriginal groups were known to exist on Australia’s shores.
Scientists were already aware that before colonisation, First Nations people took dingoes from wild dens and then raised them. However, these dingoes were thought to be then returned to the bush to find a mate once they reached sexual maturity.
This might not have been the full story.
At the Curracurrang archaeological site in southern costal NSW, the researchers looked at seven dingoes, from around 2,000 to 800 years old.
They found some that had severely worn teeth, which the researchers suggest could be from a diet of large bones and scraps from humans. They also found dingoes that were much older than a pup – around 6-8 years old.
“One dingo showed signs of suffering from an aggressive, mobility-restricting form of cancer in the last weeks of its life,” the researchers wrote in an accompanying piece in The Conversation.
“It was likely looked after by people during its decline.”
The researchers also looked at burials around the country – from Arnhem Land to the Murray-Darling basin. They found that they were mostly located on the southern coastlines of NSW and Victoria, but there was also a cluster up north.
This doesn’t mean dingoes were domesticated in the same way we think of modern dogs, but it does show that dingoes are an important part of Ingenious life in those areas.
“Much of Australia, including its native wildlife, is still managed with a colonial mindset. As this study, and many others demonstrate, dingoes are highly culturally significant for First Nations peoples, they are often regarded as family,” Professor Euan Ritchie, a dingo researcher from Deakin University told Cosmos.
“In policy, environmental legislation, and through on-ground actions such as extensive barrier fencing, trapping, shooting and poisoning of dingoes, the environmental and cultural values of dingoes are regularly treated as less important than the interests of livestock production.”
“This study adds yet more evidence to the urgent need to respect and conserve the cultural values of dingoes, in addition to their key ecological roles such as keeping herbivore numbers in check.”
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