Archaeologists have discovered clues about the relationships between ancient humans and animals in northern Italy. A new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE examines 161 burials from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC at the Seminario Vescovile archaeological site in Verona, Italy.

Sixteen of the burials contained animal remains. Many contained edible animals like pigs and cattle, likely representing food offerings for the deceased. However, four burials contained dog and/or horse remains, which were not usually eaten. To find patterns, researchers analyzed the demographics, diets, genetics and burial conditions of the humans and animals. Yet no notable correlations were found between these factors.

The individuals buried with animals did not seem to be closely related, suggesting this was not a family practice. The human-animal pairings also varied greatly, from an infant buried with a whole dog skeleton to an adult man buried with horse parts. With such diverse pairings lacking clear patterns, researchers say multiple interpretations are possible.

Animals like dogs and horses often had religious symbolism in ancient cultures. It’s also possible specific individuals were buried with their animal companions. The researchers note these human-animal burial practices may have been shaped by both individual traits and social customs.

The authors add: This study, which is part of the CELTUDALPS research project (co-financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Province of South Tyrol, and coordinated by Marco Milella of the University of Bern and Albert Zink of the Institute for Mummy Studies, Eurac Research), explores burials of horses and dogs with humans, and may hint at unknown rituals and beliefs during the late centuries BCE in Italy.

While mysteries remain, these burials offer clues about the deep and enduring bonds between ancient communities and the animals living among them.


PLOS (Public Library of Science) | Laffranchi Z, Zingale S, Tecchiati U, Amato A, Coia V, Paladin A, et al. (2024) “Until death do us part”. A multidisciplinary study on human- Animal co- burials from the Late Iron Age necropolis of Seminario Vescovile in Verona (Northern Italy, 3rd-1st c. BCE). PLoS ONE 19(2): e0293434.

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