Back in September 1986 Diggings reported the discovery by Laurence Stager of a dog cemetery in Ascalon. Since that date Stager estimates that he has found more than a thousand dog skeletons there, all of which were neatly folded in a foetal position. There were no clues as to why the dogs had been so carefully buried in the middle of the city, but Stager strongly suspected that the reasons were ritual rather than pet-loving. Beyond that, however, he could not go.
Now another dog burial as been found in Ascalon which, some suggest, may give a clue. According to “Excavations and Surveys in Israel” vol 16, government authorities decided to construct a marina on the Mediterranean coast some two kilometres north of Stager’s site. The inevitable happend when the work began: antiquities were discovered and the workmen had to call in the archaeologists to mount a rescue excavation.
The archaeologists dug a series of pits in order to discover the extent of the site and ascertain something of its history and significance. In nearly all of these objects from the Early Bronze Age were discovered, which included potsherds, flint artifacts, stone vessels, lumps of bitumen, shells, animal bones and a human skull accompanied by a pair of silver earrings.
One of the pits contained the skeleton of a dog which had been buried with a huge bone underneath its head. If dead dogs have an afterlife, this particular one found that its dreams had come true, for it was the sort of bone that dogs must dream about!
The intriguing difference between Stager’s dogs and this animal is that we presume that the former animals were sacrificed and buried as part of a ritual carried out on behalf of their owner. In the case of the Bronze Age dog, however, it would seem that the owner was concerned about the welfare of his dog in its afterlife.
Unfortunately, Stager’s dogs were buried during the Persian period whereas this recent discovery comes from the Early Bronze Age, over a thousand years before. It is unlikely, therefore, that the two burials are in any way connected, even though they are in the same general area. The mystery of Stager’s dog cemetery remains.
Now there is a second mystery in Ascalon. Not far from the single dog burial the excavators found another grave, this one containing twenty-six human skeletons. For some curious reason they had all been buried one on top of the other and all with their heads turned to the west, as if looking out to sea.
There is no doubt about it: there were some curious burial customs in old Ascalon!
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