Ancient Community May Have Sacrificed and Eaten Dogs to Become ‘Werewolves’

WORLD

Members of a Bronze Age culture that lived along the Russian steppe practiced ritual sacrifice of dogs and wolves, and their young men then ate them as part of an initiation ceremony evoking the mythological transformation into a werewolf. (Newsweek)

“All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is.” Learn more with our great study guide on wolves of ritual, myth, and legend.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s simple MapMaker Interactive map.

Wolves, like Fenrir and his friend Tyr here, have a long and storied place in ritual and mythology.
Illustration by John Bauer

 

Krasnosamarskoe is a Bronze Age archaeological site in southwestern Russia.

Discussion Ideas

 

  • Why do archaeologists think the dozens of dogs (and a few wolves) found at Krasnosamarskoe did not die naturally or were butchered as a regular source of meat?
    • Evidence of systemic knife marks indicates the dogs were deliberately killed and did not die of natural causes.
    • Many of the dogs were old (7-12 years), suggesting they were probably not raised for food.
    • The careful way the bones were arranged suggests a deliberate, practiced burial; the remains were not thrown away. Evidence suggests the dogs were killed at only certain times of the year (winter) and not in enough abundance to indicate they were used as a source of meat.

 

 

  • Are there any other examples of dogs or wolves used in ancient rituals?
    • Yes! This great article from Archaeology outlines several “Wolf Rites of Winter.” In the ancient Celtic, Germanic, Greek, and Indo-Iranian traditions, young men often left their families to form warrior societies. Linguists even reconstructed the proto-Indo European (PIE) word for these warrior bands: koryos.
      • In Germanic traditions, these bands of young warriors thought of themselves as wolf packs.
      • In ancient Greece, men sometimes donned wolf pelts in warrior rituals.
      • In the Rigveda, an ancient Sanskrit text composed sometime before 1000 BCE, young men can only become warriors after sacrificing a dog at a winter ceremony and wearing its skin.

 

  • Read through our study guide “Wolves at the Door.” According to the study guide, three of the main wolf archetypes include the “Big, Bad Wolf,” the wise wolf, and the fiercely wild wolf. Which archetype does the Srubnaya ritual suggest?
    • The wild wolf. The Srubnaya rituals were performed ahead of violent raiding parties to nearby villages. The wild nature of the untamed wolf might echo the warrior spirit the community hoped to encourage among the marauding young men.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Newsweek: Russia: 4,000-Year-Old Bones Show Mysterious Community Sacrificed and Ate Dogs to Become ‘Werewolves’

Ars Technica: Archaeologists find mysterious, 4,000-year-old dog sacrifices in Russia

Nat Geo: Boys Killed Pets to Become Warriors in Early Russia

Nat Geo: Krasnosmarskoe map

Nat Geo: Wolves at the Door

Archaeology: Wolf Rites of Winter

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