Dogs: Ancient Aztec Pet Cemetery and New Research Unveil Secrets


An Archaeological discovery of what might be a pet, or at least a dog cemetery in the Ancient Aztec regions of Mexico, along with new research studies on dogs’ brains, unveil possibly previously unknown secrets about what many would call man’s best friend; the dog. This might feed into answering or raising further questions on the evolution of dogs, if there is a common ancestor between dogs and humans, or how they may have been affected by their common history through domestication.

According to National Geographic, a team of scientists discovered what appear to be graves with canine skeletons in them, and further artifacts from nearby excavation sites suggest an estimated age of the find to be from AD 1350-1520. Found in the ancient Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, the dog skeletons are said to be well preserved, but their burial doesn’t seem to follow a discernible pattern.

Dogs were symbolically an important part of the mythology in the Ancient Aztec world, as they guided the soul of the deceased through the layers of the underworld on their challenging journey to the final resting place, Mictlan, so this pet cemetery might also unveil further secrets about not only the dogs, but also the Aztecs, as research progresses.

The skeletons, said to be all of medium height, appear to be of a common dog, while native breeds such as techichi, known for its short stature, and the xoloitzcuintli, who’s predominant indicator is the loss of its premolar teeth in its adulthood.

The excavations are being carried out in Azcapotzalco, a neighborhood in the Northwestern part of Mexico City. In the Ancient times, this area would have been placed on the western shore of the now evaporated lake Texcoco, which’s dry lakebed has become the home of this ever growing city.

Aside from the dog cemetery, the excavations in the area have unveiled a rich selection of other ancient artifacts from the time of the Aztecs, such as obsidian blades, bone needles, pottery, a carved bone of a deer, musical instruments made out of canine and human bones and further, the bones of turkeys and dogs that were served as food. The Aztecs reportedly raised dogs mostly for human consumption.

The news of the pet cemetery in Mexico and the findings of these skeletons, being paralleled in time with the recent research of how the brains of dogs and humans react to sounds, voices and even emotions, appear to be causing a lot of discussion among scientists as well as others. Some might ask a lot of questions following all of this regarding evolution, or whether perhaps this might be why domesticating some animals is easier than others, or whether all primates have the abilities commonly shared by dogs and humans, how the common history of dogs and humans may have been different depending on cultures, regions.

As far as the excavation in Mexico City goes, they plan to dig deeper in search for clues to unveil further secrets, perhaps discover the meaning of the dog cemetery, analysis of the bones and extensive research might reveal possible illnesses or malformations, cause of death or perhaps other evidence as to why the dogs were buried there.

By Halldor Fannar Sigurgeirsson

National Geographic
Daily Mail
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) (Spanish)
Chicago Tribune
National Geographic

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