Visiting our Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee gallery, you may have noticed a display installed in the floor that features a dog burial. Although this burial is a recreation of what has been found at archaeological sites, it represents hundreds of Native American dog burials uncovered from prehistoric sites in the southeastern United States.
Meagan Dennison, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at UT, researches these burials to find out what roles dogs played in past society as well as their eating habits, health, and whether they were treated as pets. Dennison began volunteering with the museum’s Education Program in 2011, leading tours for school groups in the Native Peoples gallery. Since January 2015, she has also worked in the archaeology lab, contributing to the cataloguing and rehousing of materials from more than sixty dog burials in our collection. These burials date from between 5,000 BC and AD 400. Each burial is examined by skeletal element and looked over for trauma or modification. Each is measured and sex and age is estimated. The bones are then rebagged in acid-free containers. Proper care of our archaeological collections through the work of Dennison and other students and researchers, as well as through the purchase of appropriate storage materials and cabinets, would not be possible without the generous support of our members and donors. Dennison’s research provides evidence to help us better understand how these ancient dogs lived with past peoples. She has concluded that these dogs helped in foraging and hunting activities and that some also served as pack animals.