Articles

A CAROLINA DOG EFFIGY BOTTLE

 

Mitochondrial DNA research has answered many questions about various species inhabiting our planet but it also has promoted many controversies among molecular geneticists concerning this research.  Among these disagreements is the age and characteristics of the ancient American dog.  Prehistoric American Indians certainly had dogs as companions but just where did these canines originate?  And did they produce the modern breed that is shown in the Carolina Dog effigy bottle?

 

It is actually unknown just when and where the dog, as we know it today (Canis familiaris), was domesticated.  It is believed by some researchers that the canid reached a tame state tens of thousands of years ago in Asia or Europe from the Old World Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) but there are too many obvious differences between modern dogs and this ancient wolf for this to probably be true.  They are distinct species with independent histories.  The primordial pariah or feral dogs of southeastern Asia are most reminiscent of modern dogs both in form and in genetics.  Whether our modern human comrades actually developed from prehistoric feral dogs or from wolves is not now known nor is it known if man had any direct intervention in this process or if it was natural evolution.  It is definitely believed that these domesticated dogs, regardless of their ancestry, came across the frozen Bering Strait as companions to the Pleistocene era people.  When studying fossils and DNA of archaic dogs from the northern New World continent, scientists have determined that there are few similarities between the natural American wild canines and these ancient Euro-Asian dogs.  This means that that the prehistoric Indian pets were probably not related to the native Western Hemisphere wolves, coyotes or foxes.  This means these human pets were brought to this country by humans.  But why would primitive peoples travel hundreds of miles across a frozen Artic wasteland with dogs?  This would have been a treacherous journey for the men and women and their families without having to account for the care and feeding of animals.  Were these dogs used as food?  Or were they used for hunting?  Or, as in today, were they simply beloved life partners for these ancient humans?

 

When the European explorers began arriving in this continent about five hundred years ago, they most certainly did have their own dogs as companions and for protection.  But DNA studies have also proven that there were no connections between the native American Indian dogs and the European canines brought by the adventurers.  Did these Europeans forbid the breeding of their domesticates with the native animals as is thought by some scholars today? And if that is indeed the case, what happened to the ancient Indian dogs.  In the 1970’s, groups of wild dogs were found living in cypress swamps and large stands of old growth long leaf pines along the coastal plains of modern South Carolina and Georgia.  These canines, which were subsequently named Carolina Dogs, appeared both physically and scientifically to be of the ancient pack animal origin and are similar to the Australian dingo and the contemporary pariah dogs of India.  Their behavioral patterns mimic animals that live in family groups such as organized and cooperative hunting; pack animal hierarchy with an alpha male dominating the clan and the rearing communally of the pups.  They are a rugged breed with burly bodies, strong legs and curled over tails.  When studying body and skull bones of prehistoric American Indian canines, scientists have noted likenesses to the skeletal structures of the modern Carolina Dogs.  And some ancient American Indian paintings and rock art depict dogs having a strong resemblance to these modern hounds.  But are the Carolina Dogs the same animals that traveled across the ice age land bridge from Asia to America more than 12,000 years ago?  As of now there is no firm agreement among all scientists about this but the opinion of many seems to be that there is a direct link from these contemporary Carolina Dogs to the prehistoric Indian canine companions.

 

As the prehistoric Americans progressed through the ancient millennia, their cultural habits also progressed from simple nomadic hunters and gatherers to semi-permanent villagers onto settled people who raised their own crops for consumption and thrived in towns near water bordering plains.  As these people advanced into the time epoch called the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex or Mississippian Period, they made many thousands of ceramic vessels.  And they would have certainly had their canine pets in these village environments.  We know that these circa AD 1000-1700 Indians had dogs as companions because they did make a few ceramic stylizations of these revered animals.  Such is the case of this Carolina dog effigy vessel.

 

These Mississippian Indians apparently, though, only made a small number of effigies of their dogs and that is an oddity since the early European explorers made note that the native villages had more canines than human inhabitants.  There is some speculation that the society leaders and warriors cooked and ate dogs during special occasions and only then had ceramic effigies made to extol the consumed animals.  Of the small number of this type vessel that has been found, most are in the bottle form including the famous Quapaw teapot dog effigies.  Many feature short legs, a muscular body, a keen nosed head, erect ears and a curled over tail – all of which are similarities of the modern Carolina Dog.  The dog effigy bottle pictured with this article was found on the Smith Site in Mississippi County, Arkansas and will probably have a  date of manufacture in the AD 1400-1700 time period.  It is 5 ¾ inches tall and 5 ½ inches long head to tail and is made of shell tempered Bell Plain greyware.  It is essentially a realistic tetrapodal dog effigy with four robust legs, a stout and squarish body and a curled over tail.  The head is modeled with two erect ears, two large eyes and an open and snarling mouth.  These are all attributes of the modern Carolina Dog.  The head of this earthenware replica, though, does not have the pointed type face of the Carolina Dog but that is probably due to the fact that there is minor ancient damage to the snout thus reducing it to a more pug-like appearance.  Do not let the name Carolina Dog and the fact that this bottle was found in Arkansas fool you.  The moniker we use today for this canine species is simply a name given to the dogs because the original ones were encountered in the state of South Carolina.  They could well be named Arkansas Dogs or Mississippi River Dogs or simply Prehistoric Indian Dogs.  Remember the old adage “a rose would still be a rose by any other name”.  But since that name is currently being used for these animals, that name will be used here in the story about this unusual Carolina Dog effigy bottle.

 

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