The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ancient dog remains discovered: dogs don't protest

A National Geographic article (and several others around the web) is reporting the discovery of the oldest unquestionable dog (not wolf or other canid) remains at a site in Texas. The piece of bone was dated at 9400 years old. There are other, much older sites associating dogs and humans elsewhere in the world, but this, if the dating is right, is the earliest in the New World (if you accept that Texas is part of the New World.)

Perhaps unfortunately for dog lovers and of course the dog in question, there was also clear evidence that he or she was eaten by the humans, but in any early relationship there are ups and downs.

What is most interesting is that under the terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), dogs anywhere could have demanded that bone be turned over to them for religious and other purposes, as would be the case if the remains had been human and clearly of some native American origin. Non-native remains, e.g. Irish remains; Polish remains; African-American remains; Well, German, but I think my grandfather was from Belgium or maybe Spain remains are not so covered; a patchwork of Federal, State, and local laws pertaining to remains apply, and none that I'm aware of go as far as NAGPRA to permit sheer intervention -- outright removal of the material from scientific facilities and denial of access by scientists -- unless you can prove it's Aunt Tilly we're talking about here. Archeologists with tenure on the their minds or those who rely on information from Native American communities to carry out their work are cautiously supportive of NAGPRA. Those who are ethically disinterested are opposed to it, and are extremely opposed to a new round of restrictions now being debated. It even raises church-vs-state questions, since it often sets government-funded research efforts against religious beliefs.

But since the dogs were clearly here at the same time as the Native Americans (who were illegal immigrants, having slipped over the heavily guarded Bering Straight, when the Polar Bears weren't looking,) dogs today would certainly be upheld by NAGPRA if they demanded that the small fragment of skull be turned over to them for ... well, whatever.

However, a spokesdog expressed no interest whatsoever in the issue, being fully engaged with an analysis of a large smoked beef bone. It is understood that cattle, not being native to North America, have no rights under NAGPRA, but a spokespig for the National Association of Porcine Americans said that unless the upcoming changes in the law recognize their unique status as America's Other White Meat, the formation of a fourth party for the 2012 election was virtually assured.

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