Nov 22, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Ancient Russian Dog Sacrifices May Be Origin of Werewolf Myths

Near the banks of the Samara River, archaeologists have been uncovering evidence of a 5000-year-old civilization called Krasnosamarskoe. While ancient settlements in the Ural mountains and Siberian steppes are nothing new, researchers have been discovering evidence of strange rituals and sacrifices that are unlike anything else found in the region. A new study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology suggests that the people of Krasnosamarskoe developed elaborate ceremonies based on the ritual killing, butchering, and burning of dogs not for food but for something far more mysterious.

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Canine skull fragments found at the site.

According to Hartwick College anthropologist David Anthony who led this research, the people of Krasnosamarskoe likely sacrificed the dogs according to a belief that men could become or embody the souls of dogs and wolves in order to become more powerful warriors. Anthony and his college Dorcas Brown write that this belief is common among early Indo-European mythologies:

The dogs and wolves were eaten at Krasnosamarskoe in a clear inversion of normal eating practices, a strong signal of a rite of passage centered on transformation into dogs/wolves, exactly as the warrior is symbolized in Indo-European myths. The fact that male dogs were selected for sacrifice identifies this as a male-centered ritual, and the fact that old, familiar dogs were selected makes it appear that the dogs symbolized cultured, that is human, victims. All of this aligns with the dog-as warrior myth better than the other possibilities.

Bones found at the site suggest that the dogs sacrificed originated from far away locations. Archaeologists believe this shows that boys and young men would travel from throughout the region to this site in order to perform this ritual at a specific altar or meeting ground. The sacrifices all took place during the winter when hunting became vital for survival in the unforgiving Siberian landscape.

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The remains of over 50 dogs have been found at the site.

As time passed, cities began to develop making hunting less common and turning warriors into a specialized occupation controlled by the state. Memories of these rituals eventually began to fade, likely merging into the Indo-European cultural consciousness and inspiring many of the werewolf myths which still persist today. As the holidays approach, it makes you wonder: how many of our myths, legends, and ritual practices have their origins in strange, ancient rituals? How many of those were based on sacrifice?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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