A map of the area on the northern Russian steppes where the sacrificial dogs were found.
The Krasnosamarskoe settlement was a tiny ritual center, part of the larger Indo-European Srubnaya culture in the late Bronze Age. (credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology)
4,000 years ago in the northern steppes of Eurasia, in the shadow of the Ural Mountains, a tiny settlement stood on a natural terrace overlooking the Samara River.
In the late twentieth century, a group of archaeologists excavated the remains of two or three structures that once stood here, surrounded by green fields where sheep and cattle grazed.
But the researchers quickly discovered this was no ordinary settlement. Unusual burials and the charred remains of almost fifty dogs suggested this place was a ritual center for at least 100 years.
Hartwick College anthropologist David Anthony and his colleagues have excavated for several years at the site, called Krasnosamarskoe, and have wondered since that time what kind of rituals would have left this particular set of remains behind.
Anthony and his Hartwick College colleague Dorcas Brown offer some ideas in a paper published recently in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
The people who lived at Krasnosamarskoe were part of an Indo-European cultural group called Srubnaya, with Bronze Age technology.
The Srubnaya lived in settlements year-round, but were not farmers.
They kept animals, hunted for wild game, and gathered plants to eat opportunistically. Like many Indo-European peoples, they did not have what modern people would call an organized religion.
But as Krasnosamarskoe demonstrates, they certainly had beliefs that were highly spiritual and symbolic.
And they engaged in ritualistic practices over many generations.
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