ASSOCIATED STILLBORN AND DOG BURIALS : THE UNCOMMON CASE OF THE CEMETERY OF VIA TOMMASO GAR (TN)
Valeria Amoretti, SUN Second University of Naples | Cristina Bassi, Archaeological Office. Cultural Heritage Superintendence, Trento | Alex Fontana, MUSE Museum of Science, Trento
This paper focuses on the significance of the finding of skeletal remains of dogs in an archeological excavation, through the case study of the mixed human/dog cemetery, that was excavated in Via Tommaso Gar (TN) in 2009 by the Soprintendenza per I BeniArcheologici di Trento, under the supervision of the officer Cristina Bassi.
The burial area dated, on the basis of the grave goods to V century B.C. – tothe “age of transition” between the roman and the early medieval world – consisted in 23 human burials (7 adults, 4 infans, 12 individuals who died in perinatal age), and 4 dog burials, all adults dog, disposed beside a long wall, not completely excavated.
In this site there was a clear association between the dog burials and the graves of some individuals died in perinatal age, probably fetuses or stillborn. This fact opens a discussion related to the role of the dogs, whose presence in ritual situations is commonly interpreted as having an archaic expiatory and purifying function, that is well-documented in Trentino as in Mediterranean area and in some medieval beliefs, of which we have testimony.
In particular in this work both archeological, anthropological and archaeozoological analysis contribute to examine – in an interdisciplinary process – the association to animal burials to graves of individuals considered as particular or dangerous in ancient cultures. In the case of the cemetery of Via Tommaso Gar we could appreciate the dog offering as an important grave goods for the little child that venture in the word of spirits, as a companion ad a protector.
But another possible interpretation regards the role of the dogs as guardians, connected to the concept of limes between the world of the livings and the word of the dead; in this case the sacrifice assumes another light, and the dogs acquires the role of champion of livings against the dead, in particular a kind of dead that has not a distinct status as a stillborn (someone who died at birth, and could be conceived as an open door on the afterworld).
In this paper we will debate about this double interpretation at the light of all the crossed interdisciplinary data at our disposal, trying to understand an uncommon ritual that swing between necrophilia and necrophobia.