Category Archives: historical human remains dog

How Archaeologists Use the Power of a Dog’s Nose

By Linda Cole

Dogs are famous for their acute sense of smell. Beagles have been employed as bed bug detection dogs, and they sniff bags in airports to check for illegal fruits and vegetables being brought in by travelers. Drug and bomb sniffing dogs are trained to detect the smallest hint of contraband or explosives. More recently, archaeologists have discovered a dog with a good nose can be trained to search for smells that will tell us about our historical past buried in prehistoric grave sites. Now that’s a dog with a keen sense of smell!

When comparing scent receptors, we humans are woefully inadequate to dogs. Humans have around five million scent receptors in their nose, and the average canine has around 200 million. Adding to a dog’s extraordinary scenting ability is an organ located on the roof of the mouth that allows them to “taste” a smell, as well. So when we catch a whiff of steaks grilling on a BBQ close by, you can imagine how that mouth-watering scent is affecting your dog. Dogs are also capable of honing in on one specific smell among many. Once they find what they’re looking for, their focus is on that one smell, and they can follow it to its source. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to evade a tracking Bloodhound.

Historical Human Remains Detection dogs (HHRD) are trained to sniff out lingering odors from bones and teeth in old grave sites, some that may be thousands of years old. These unique canines are the newest detection dogs, and they help humans search for information underground that is difficult for us to find on our own. These specially trained dogs have been used by archaeologists, construction companies and ordinary people to locate American Indian burial sites, lost family cemeteries and unmarked grave sites.

We live in the present, but our history is buried in the past. We learn who we are as a people by understanding who we were in the past. Spread across this land are historical and prehistoric grave sites that can take us back to another time. In many cases, finding a hundred-year-old family burial spot isn’t of any real value to most people, but it is to the family searching for their roots.

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