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The Ancient Dogs of Utah

By Joker

black lab dog

The author, Joker.

When humans first came to North America, they brought their dogs with them.

That’s right. Dogs. Humans and dogs have been together for a long, long time.

My human is an archaeologist. He studies people who lived here in Utah and other places long ago. He is always telling me about something new archaeologists have learned about the ancient people of Utah.

Well, I got to wondering about the dogs these ancient people had. What were they like? Are they dogs like me? What about poodles? Did the ancient people of Utah have poodles?

I’ve learned that for at least 11,000 years, people and their dogs have lived here in Utah.


A dog pulling a travois.

According to some scientists, the ancient dogs of North America were descendants of wolves. Dogs were used for hunting and even to carry loads of gear for humans with a contraption called a “travois.” Glad I don’t have to do that!

Here in Utah there are some amazing archaeological discoveries of dogs. The earliest evidence of domesticated dogs comes from Danger Cave, on the west border of Utah. Archaeologists found dog bones there that are more than 9,000 years old. (That’s 63,000 dog years!)

Dogs and humans can be the best of friends in life and in death.

dog printIn fact, archaeologists working near Utah Lake once discovered the skeleton of a man who lived nearly 6,000 years ago. This man was buried in a shallow grave, and he was buried with stone tools like spear points, bone tools, and some woven textiles. His dog was also buried with him.

In southern Utah, dogs have been found deliberately buried along with grave goods like ceramic bowls. At one site, two mummified dogs were discovered. No, they weren’t like Egyptian mummies—they had basically dried out from being buried in a dry cave. They look pretty much like a couple of dogs I see at the dog park by Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.

Life for prehistoric dogs in Utah was not always good.

In fact, prehistoric humans sometimes used dogs as food. I know that seems pretty gross, but maybe dogs were on the menu mainly during times of starvation or during certain ceremonies.

drawing of horseman and dog

Dogs have been companions to humans for thousands of years.

My research seems to show that dogs and humans have been together for a long time, and it’s pretty clear to me that without us dogs humans would have had a tough time. We helped them hunt, carried their gear, cleaned up the scraps of food around the camp, and warned them when danger was near. In fact, we even let them use us for food.

And—go ahead, say it—we dogs are sure cute.

By the way, I don’t think there were any poodles in prehistoric Utah.

Now, go give your dog a big treat.