Thanks to facial reconstruction technology, the face of a Neolithic dog that once walked with its human companions some 4,000 years ago has been recreated for the first time.
Commissioned by the Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the reconstruction was based on the the skull of a dog discovered more than a century ago in Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn on an island in Scotland’s Orkney Archipelago.
Built between 3,000 and 2,400 BCE, the four-celled cairn is an excellent example of a Neolithic chamber tomb used for ancient burials by the earliest agricultural communities in the region. In 1901, scientists excavated 24 dog skulls and their bones from the tomb, along with at least eight humans.
The decades that followed brought new technologies like radiocarbon dating that confirmed the dog bones were placed in the chamber more than 500 years after the passage tomb was built. This suggests that dogs played an important role in ancient human society and were buried for ritualistic purposes.
“Just as they’re treasured pets today, dogs clearly had an important place in Neolithic Orkney, as they were kept and trained as pets and guards and perhaps used by farmers to help tend sheep,” HES interpretation manager Steve Farrar said in a statement.
“But the remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago. Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the ‘dog people.'”
Flash forward to 2019: researchers CT-scan one of the dog skulls in order to make a 3D print. Then, forensic artist Amy Thornton creates a realistic model of the dog’s head, muscle, skin, and hair – all of which are particularly challenging given the limited existing data, such as tissue depths, in canine skulls.
Thornton built a clay sculpture from the 3D print using traditional methods and then cast it in silicone, finishing it in a fur coat resembling that of a European grey wolf. Researchers suggest the dog was around the size of a modern collie.
HES says this is the first attempt to reconstruct an animal from this time.
“Looking at this dog helps us better relate to the people who cared for and venerated these animals, people whose ingenuity and sophistication made Orkney such an important place in the Neolithic and who have left us with such a rich legacy of monuments today,” says Farrar, and we can but agree.