Old Companions, Noble Steeds: Why dogs and horses were buried at an Early Medieval settlement along the Old Rhine
By Elfi Buhrs
Master’s Thesis, University of Leiden, 2013
Abstract: Excavations at the Early Medieval site of Oegstgeest, located in the Dutch Rhine estuary, have yielded the burials of three horses and three dogs. In order to understand why these animals were buried and how their burials relate to the roles these animals fulfilled for the inhabitants of the settlement, a zooarchaeological study of their articulated remains has been combined with a critical analysis of existing literature and previous notions about the nature of Early Medieval dog and horse burials. It is argued that at the buried horses were first used as riding animals and then sacrificed to display wealth and status. The buried dogs on the other hand were considered social companions and buried accordingly after they died. Both the burying of dogs and sacrifice of horses fits a burial pattern specific for the North Sea coast, and could indicate the presence of a local elite at the settlement of Oegstgeest, with the means to keep large dogs and kill valuable riding steeds.
Introduction: Excavations at the Early Medieval site of Oegstgeest, situated in the Dutch Rhine estuary, have yielded the burials of three dogs and three horses, some of which were located near human inhumation graves and others nearby a house structure. Studying these burials can lead to better insight into the roles dogs and horses fulfilled for the Early Medieval inhabitants. With animal husbandry as an important part of the settlement’s subsistence strategy, the majority of the animal remains found at Oegstgeest consists of consumption waste of the ‘economically important’ species cattle, sheep/goat and pig. Dogs and horses on the other hand, are underrepresented in the bulk of consumption waste and consequently, in previous zooarchaeological studies.
The main goal of this study is to identify why dogs and horses were buried at the settlement of Oegstgeest and how their burials relate to the roles these animals fulfilled in the lives of the humans they lived among. The zooarchaeological data derived from the their remains will be combined with a critical analysis of previous interpretations of Early Medieval dog and horse burials.