The Oberkassel puppy

13,000 years ago, a puppy was born in what is now Germany. The puppy was not healthy, and had to be nursed by its humans through three bouts of distemper when it was four to five months old. That is a disease that still kills dogs, especially puppies, to this day.

Sadly, when it was about six months old, the puppy died. It was found in Oberkassel near Bonn in 1914, along with two humans, a woman in her mid twenties, and a man aged about forty. They were all buried with honour and ceremony, sprayed with red rock powder, covered with basalt blocks so that nobody would disturb them.

We don’t know much more than that. We know that the the two humans were related, but not closely. We know that a tooth from another dog was buried too, along with a carved bone pin, a sculpture of the head of an elk carved into an elk antler, a bear’s penis bone (lots of male animals have penis bones, though humans don’t) and a red deer tooth. No other humans or animals were buried in the immediate area.

It seems to me that the most likely scenario is that the two humans were leadership figures in their village, their clan, their tribe, whatever the larger social unit was. He had a couple of healed broken bones. She had had at least one child. They both had bad teeth. There’s no obvious cause of death – no marks of immediate violence.

I would bet that man, woman and dog died together in an accident that left no trace on their bones; asphyxiation caused by fire or flood, perhaps. And their grieving kin laid all three of them to rest together, speaking words we can never hear, in a language we will never know, for them to be found 14,000 years later.

The Oberkassel puppy is the earliest known example of a domesticated dog. It was ill for much of its short life, and could not have been useful to its humans as a hunter or guard. They spent a lot of time looking after it, because they loved it.

Don Hitchcock’s web page has lots more information, links and photographs. The best recent academic source on the Oberkassel puppy is by Luc Janssens of the University of Gent and colleagues: “A new look at an old dog: Bonn-Oberkassel reconsidered”, Journal of Archaeological Science (2018),