Dogs have been companions to humans for centuries and played many roles as guardians, pets, hunting companions, and more. University of New Mexico Archaeology student Victoria Monagle has examined these relationships and recently collaborated with associate professor Emily Lena Jones to co-author a chapter in a new book called Dogs: Archaeology Beyond Domestication. The chapter, Dog Life and Death in an Ancestral Pueblo Landscape, examines the relationships between humans and dogs in ancient pueblos. 

Emily Jones in zooarchaeology lab
Associate Professor Emily Jones in zooarchaeology lab

Jones is an associate professor in the department, focusing on Archaeology. Monagle is a Ph.D. student in Archaeology within the UNM Department of Anthropology. Both study human-animal relationships as a way to understand culture. The chapter in the new book is taken from Monagle’s master’s project that looked at human-animal interactions in the Ancestral Pueblo world, particularly with dogs.

After Monagle presented some of her research on dogs at the 2017 Society for American Archaeology meetings in Vancouver, Canada, the organizers of that session became the two editors of the book and asked her to contribute.

“When Victoria asked me to collaborate with her on this, I was very excited to get involved in a project looking at how domesticated animals are treated differently in different contexts, as this is one of my primary interests. But the research at the heart of this chapter is Victoria's work,” Jones said.

Victoria Monagle and Hem
Ph.D. student Victoria Monagle and her dog Hem

Before she attended UNM, Monagle worked as a seasonal archaeologist for the National Park Service at Chiricahua National Monument, Coronado National Memorial, and Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Arizona.

“Previously, I had also worked at the Gila Cliff Dwellings as a volunteer Park Ranger and the El Camino Real Historic Trail Site as a State Park Ranger. I've also had internships and volunteer positions at Chamizal National Memorial and Lincoln National Memorial,” she added.

“Many of the questions I received from visitors during the last 10 years I've been volunteering and working at these sites have been themed on how people living in the past were similar to us. When I was at the Gila Cliff Dwellings I was constantly asked if Ancestral Puebloans had pets. I realized that talking about dogs really engaged my audience and helped visitors become far more interested in the site, and, hopefully, in preservation of that site. By studying dogs, I've noticed that it's easier for me to have very long and thoughtful conversations with the public since almost everyone has a dog or knows one,” Monagle explained.

“Many of the questions I received from visitors during the last 10 years I've been volunteering and working at these sites have been themed on how people living in the past were similar to us. When I was at the Gila Cliff Dwellings I was constantly asked if Ancestral Puebloans had pets."

Victoria Monagle, Ph.D. student

In her original research, Monagle studied a zooarchaeological (non-human remains) collection that was in the process of being repatriated from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History back to the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in Colorado. Her research was supported by UNM's El Centro de la Raza through a professional development scholarship, as well as by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The original project transformed from a study of the various animal remains into an attempt to understand past human-dog relationships using Pueblo world views.

The collections she studied were from an Ancestral Pueblo site in Mancos Colorado, in the Mesa Verde region, and date to sometime between 700 and 900 AD. The site was excavated in the 1970s. The collections were held by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, before their repatriation to Ute Mountain Ute.

“Excavation can be a useful tool, especially when a site is threatened, but there are also a lot of collections out there that have never been fully studied, or which could benefit from a study with new methods,” Jones said. Monagle said she prefers to study readily available existing collections rather than engaging in excavation, which is destructive.

 “We found that the dogs analyzed filled multiple roles throughout their lifetime, including potential companions, ritual sacrifices, and just community members  ΜΆ  animals living in and among the people,” Monagle noted. The chapter in the book notes that dogs could have been used for food, in dedicatory offerings, and for their hair.

In five or six of the dogs she examined, she found they had been killed similarly, with a blow to the left side of the head, suggesting that their deaths might have been a ritual or religious activity. Some were buried in kivas, an underground chamber used by Pueblo Indians for religious rites.

Based on the skeletons, Monagle said, the dogs found in the excavations were probably similar to mixed-breed dogs found within Pueblo communities today. The chapter co-authored by Jones and Monagle in the new book further notes, “The study of dog remains in the Americas may thus be relevant to tribal heritage and cultural resource ownership as well as to archaeological study… Dogs are important agents in the Southwestern Indigenous world today; dog dances, dog kachinas, and stories, traditions, and myths about dogs are a part of life in many Southwestern Indigenous communities.”

Monagle’s fascination with the relationship between canines and their people continues. Her current work on her Ph.D. further looks at those relationships in the Southwest, if and how it has changed through time, and if the same patterns are present in later sites.

“I think that this research has generated even more questions that we weren't even thinking about,” she observed.

Jones agreed, adding, “I now have a lot of questions about the differences between life histories of animals versus their burial treatment, and whether the pattern Victoria found with these dogs is present at other sites in the Southwest.”

The book Dogs: Archaeology Beyond Domestication is available from Amazon and other booksellers and “offers a rich archaeological portrait of the human-canine connection. Contributors investigate the ways people have viewed and valued dogs in different cultures around the world and across the ages.”