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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK
Mummified dogs uncovered in Peru
By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

The animals are in a remarkable state of preservation

Archaeologists in Peru have uncovered the mummified remains of more than 40 dogs buried with blankets and food alongside their human masters.

The discovery was made during the excavation of two of the ancient Chiribaya people who lived in southern Peru between AD 900 and AD 1350.

Experts say the dogs' treatment in death indicated the belief that the animals had an afterlife.

Such a status for pets has only previously been seen in ancient Egypt.

Hundreds of years before the European conquest of South America, the Chiribaya civilisation valued its dogs so highly that when one died, it was buried alongside family members.

'Distinct breed'

The dogs, which have been called Chiribaya shepherds for their llama-herding abilities, were not sacrificed as in other ancient cultures, but buried with blankets and food in human cemeteries.

Biological archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 40 dogs which were naturally mummified in the desert sand of Peru's southern Ilo Valley. Now they have teamed up with Peru's Kennel Club to try to establish if the dogs represent a new distinct breed indigenous to South America.

The country is full of breeds which arrived in the last few centuries, but they believe some dogs living today in southern Peru share the characteristics of their ancestors.

The Chiribaya dog looked rather like a small golden retriever with a medium-sized snout, beige colouring, and long hair.

The only other indigenous Peruvian canine is the hairless dog, which evolved over more than 2,000 years ago from Asian ancestors brought across the Bering Straits.

It was recognised as a distinct breed just 20 years ago.

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16 May 06 |  Americas
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17 May 05 |  Americas
Mummy trove found in Peru
17 Apr 02 |  Science/Nature
Country profile: Peru
29 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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