Dingoes had ‘almost human’ status in pre-colonial Australia, archaeologists find

While dingos are seen as pests in many parts of Australia, such was not always the case — with the wild dogs having an “almost human” status in pre-colonial Australia.

This is the conclusion of a team of researchers from the Australian National University and the University of Western Australia.

They studied the dingo bones unearthed at the Curracurrang archaeological site south of Sydney, which radiocarbon dating has revealed are some 2,000 years old.

The archaeologists found that the dogs were buried by First Nations people — and may have even been domesticated as well.

Either way, the care taken of the animals after their death suggests a closer relationship between humans and dingoes that was previously appreciated.

The study was undertaken by Dr Loukas Koungoulos of the Australian National University and his colleagues.

Koungoulos said: “Not all camp dingoes were given burial rites, but 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.

“This reflects the close bond between people and dingoes and their almost-human status.”

Alongside the burials, the team also found dingo teeth at the site that were severely worn — suggesting a diet heavy in large bones, such as would come from eating scraps left over from human meals.

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The fact that the remains belong to dingoes of varying ages — from pups to adults aged up to eight years — suggest that First Nations people built substantial relationships with the animals, rather than just caring for young dogs before returning them to the wild.

Paper co-author Professor Susan O’Connor — also of the Australian National University — said: “These findings mark an important development in our understanding of the relationship between Australia’s First Peoples and dingoes.

“By the time Europeans settled in Australia, the bond between dingoes and Indigenous people was entrenched. This is well known by Indigenous people and has been documented by observers.

“Our work shows that they had long-lasting relationships prior to European colonization, not just the transient, temporary associations recorded during the colonial era.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS One.

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