I am an environmental archaeologist, specializing in zooarchaeology. As the Assistant Curator of Zooarchaeology at the Arizona State Museum my research explores human decision-making processes, especially those related to the interaction of human communities with wild and domesticated animals. Animals play a huge role in human life as food, pets, transport, protection, and hunting aids, among other things. I use a combination of zooarchaeological analysis, biomorphometrics, and human behavioral ecology these and other aspects of past human life. I am particularly interested in questions relating to human subsistence, the management and adaptation of domestic animal species, and species translocation.
What is a Dog?
Dogs (Canis familiaris) were domesticated over 15,000 years ago from the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Dogs are unique among animal domesticates in both their extreme morphological variability, but also in the number of roles they serve within human communities. The diversity of size and physical proportions seen in dogs are strongly linked to the roles they play in human communities. Despite their lengthy history with human communities, and morphological variability, it can be difficult to identify domestic dog remains in the archaeological record, and to understand the contributions dogs make to specific human communities. Ongoing research within the Stanley J. Olsen Laboratory of Zooarchaeology is supported by a small group of volunteers, and centers on:
- Testing and developing methods for identifying dog remains.
- Exploring the links between dog’s morphology and roles in past societies.
Identifying Domestic Dogs:
Many methods have been used to differentiate dog remains from those of wild canids. However, these were frequently developed specifically to differentiate early dogs and wolves and are often heavily dependent upon differences in size. The extreme variability in more recent dog’s physical morphology makes it challenging to identify traits which differentiate them from wild canids, especially those of similar size to domestic dogs like coyotes. By studying collections of modern dogs and wild canids (above) we test and develop methods for identifying dog remains.
Dog’s Roles in Past Societies:
Variation in skeletons of dog populations through time and space hold clues for understanding their place within human cultures. Examining dog size, physical characteristics, and health provides avenues through which to better understanding the ways in which these animals contributed to human existence in the region and identify changes in these roles over time. We are currently analyzing dog remains from prehistoric and historic sites in the American Southwest to evaluate their skeletal variability and dental health. These data contribute to ongoing research into the geographic and temporal variability of dog adaptation in North America.
Martin H. Welker, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Zooarchaeology
Arizona State Museum / University of Arizona
1013 E. University Blvd
P.O. Box 210026
Tucson, AZ 85721-0026