Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dogs and Donuts in the CWC

Last week I read a fascinating paper by Kyselý, Dobeš, Svoboda, 2017 - abstract below.  I'll briefly share some of their pay-per-view findings, but my interest is the meaning behind this phenomenon.  Related to this previous post:  "Woman with a Wolf-Toothed Necklace"

In a cemetery at Březiněves, Czech Republic, Kyselý, Dobeš, Svoboda examine what they believe is the largest collection of tooth and shell necklaces in the whole of Europe.  The distribution of shell and teeth are mostly necklaces, but in many cases the placement of shell beads or teeth also suggest decoration on certain garments, like women's hobbit cloaks, hoods, capes and purses.

Stuff and fake stuff. Fig. 7 (Kyselý, Dobeš, Svoboda, 2017)
What's interesting about Březiněves, like another recent Corded Ware site in Germany, is that the overwhelming majority of teeth are from domestic dog canines, mostly not wolves, but in a few other cases the canines or incisors of other animals, even canine imitations (above).  The shell beads are all from imported freshwater bivalves, which I imagine gave them the nacre luster of their day.

In the CWC it appears that only women wore a necklaces of canis canines separated by beads of freshwater bi-valve shells.  Although pearly buttons and solar emblems sometimes appear alone, and although dog teeth adorn certain women's accessories, the fashioning of the materials in the tooth-shell necklace is rather specific.  The tooth-shell necklace is so common and its construction is so prescribed that it would seem reasonable to think that it has a deeper meaning to the wearers than a simple fashion trend.  This is what I commented to JV in that first post, paraphrasing a few points from Theoi:
Modern Bi-vavles are called "naiads" [18th century taxonomy] after the nymphs of the springs, creeks and wetlands. Within the context of Greek religion, these nymphs of the springs are servants to Artemis (similar to Frigg), wetnurses of babies and overseers of girls. Conversely, boys are shepherded by the sun god "Apollo" [associated with wolves], as in the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus.  When a child reached a certain age, they would return to a spring for some sort of ceremony and sacrifice for thanks and passing into independence.  [Theoi, 2017]
And just to clarify after re-reading that statement, calling pearly mussels 'naiads' is only a modern-English taxonomical convention, nothing to suggest a concrete association between naidads and bivalves in ancient times that I am aware of.  Quite a few freshwater plant and animal species incorporate the mythological name in its taxonomical name.

But the point I was clumsily trying to make is that the association between these two species could be explained as a metaphor in Indo-European religion, specifically the relationship between Apollo and Artemis and their divine responsibilities, being suitable proxies for most Indo-European religions.  (And it is interesting to note the exclusivity mentioned in Kyselý et al between these necklaces and the solar crosses, and that they are generally worn by women, not men)

Romulus and Remus saved

So again, why would dog teeth be associated with wolves, wolves with a Sun god, and a Sun god with (generally child-bearing age) Corded Ware women?  Let me attempt to connect fifty thousand dots just for the heck of it.

The name of one of Apollo's epithets, Lyceius, is itself very likely a homophonic metaphor of the Proto-Indo-European names for wolf (*wĺ̥kʷos ) (or Lykeios -wolf slayer) and shining light (*lewkós).  Similar constructions can be made in the other religions as well, certainly Germanic and Celtic religions.  So how does that relate to dogs?

Indo-Europeanists Gamkrelidze and Ivanov have made the case that dogs and wolves were conflated in Indo-European speech and religion (1995, page 505).  Perhaps PIE dogs were more wolf-like and a lot less like Neolithic village dogs.  Regardless, I'd venture to bet that dog canines were suitable substitutes for a preference of rarer wolf teeth and that the hypothesis might testable by looking at the most elite CWC female burials or the oldest burials.  It's also possible that CWC folks saw no functional distinction between teeth of the two sub-species whatsoever.

Another possibility is that the canines of shepherd dogs were incorporated into these amulet necklaces for protection against wolves in addition to general misfortune.  A paper by Jean-Marc Moriceau (2014) relates a sad reality once common in wolf-infested Europe; from a small village in France, 1749:
“Marie, aged approximately 7 years, daughter of Jacques Prudent and his first wife, Tiennette Maroyer, was snatched from her doorway by a wolf and devoured in a field. Only her head, one arm and her stomach were found, and nothing besides. These pitiful remains were buried in the cemetery of this church the following day, fifth October, before my entire parish, who had gathered for Sunday Mass.”
Ironic that such a dark animal subject to local bounties and tributes, a terror of children's stories, an epithet of raiders and berserkers, and a real-life menace to children and livestock would be so venerated in IE folklore and religion.  Could it be that the purpose of the teeth and shell is not so much a fashion, but the fact that women of a certain belief system have male and female children?

Dance of the Naiades (Adolphe Lalyre)

Drilled teeth and shell artefacts from a grave at Prague-Březiněves and a review of decorative artefacts made from animal material from Corded Ware culture in the Czech Republic
Kyselý, R., Dobeš, M. & Svoboda, K. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2017). [Link]
Necklaces or other decorations made from drilled animal teeth and small perforated shell beads are typical burial objects of graves from the Late Eneolithic Corded Ware culture (c. 2900–2300 bc) in the territories of the Czech Republic, based on local data, central Germany, and to lesser degree in some other European regions. The richest collection of tooth pendants and shell beads so far discovered in Bohemia, and potentially the whole of Europe, derives from the recent excavation at Prague-Březiněves (595 tooth finds; 2801 complete shell beads and their 5586 fragments). A detailed analysis of this find forms the first part of the paper. The second, comparative section reviews all available graves (134 graves) of this culture from the territories of the Czech Republic that contain decorative items made from animal material: drilled teeth and imitation teeth, small beads of shell or bone and larger discs made of shell (or sometimes bone) called “solar” discs because of the decoration based on the symbol of a cross. Altogether, over 4000 teeth finds (from 88 graves) and over 30,000 finds of shell ring (68 graves), serving as beads or pendants, were recorded. Furthermore, 58 solar discs in 37 graves were recorded. The graves discussed here are mostly of women, either young or older; but children also appear. The frequent co-occurrence of teeth and shell beads (small decorative items) and their tendency to be mutually exclusive with larger solar discs (possibly brooches with a variety of functions) attest to two phenomena. Dog teeth, especially canines and incisors, clearly predominate in the collections of drilled teeth (in Březiněves min. 502 tooth finds representing at least 403 teeth and at least 73 dogs). Teeth of wild carnivores—wolf (Canis lupus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), wild cat (Felis silvestris), badger (Meles meles), otter (Lutra lutra), smaller mustelids, and brown bear (Ursus arctos)—and deer (Cervus elaphus) provide clear evidence of their presence in the environment. Two drilled human premolars are highly exceptional finds. Decorated discs made from the shells of the non-autochthonous freshwater mussel Margaritifera auricularia found at Prague-Březiněves and other Czech sites suggest importation from western or southern Europe. Despite there being significant inter-grave differences in the composition of the collections, the regular appearance of the phenomena described in this research in c. 10% of all graves of this culture, together with the uniformities in the manufacture of the items, suggests relatively strict rules with respect to Corded Ware funeral customs. Nevertheless, differences in the proportions of artefacts within the region were observed, such as a shift to a relatively higher frequency of discs, a greater specialisation on dog canines and incisors and the exclusion of imitation teeth between typological (and probably chronological) groups of this culture. The role of dogs, the meaning of these phenomena and their relation to the broader temporo-spatial context are widely discussed.

See also:
"The Structure and Complexity of Corded Ware Mortuary Practices; a bi-ritual communal burial at Slany (Bohemia) and its social significance" (Jan Turek)

"Dog tooth studded purse" (National Geographic)

"A Reader in Comparative Indo-European Religion"  Ranko Matasović, 2016

"Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans. A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture by Th.V.Gamkrelidze & V.V. Ivanov (page 505)


  1. Very interesting! Thank you for posting. Is the use of animal teeth in female adornment from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe Eastern Hunter-Gatherer (earlier Eastern Siberian Hunter Gatherer Cultures) originally? Or did Hunter-Gatherers in general use animal teeth pendants?(Dolni Vestonice) I've read that the 2000 BCE Okunev Culture women had all sorts of animal teeth decor on their clothing, even their shoes.(however, I've read that LBK burials in Hungary also used animal tooth pendants) And the solar shell pendants, are they buttons or cloak closures? I see similarities between the Czech, Bohemian CWC and Central Germany CWC burial artifacts. Perhaps an east to west migration? It seems the use of shell beads beads and teeth were used on clothing and cloaks and purses. I did read an article on use wear of tooth beads in the Single Grave Culture in Southern Sweden. Seems the beads were strung loose and made a musical sound. Do you know of any illustration on CWC female decor anywhere on the web? I read descriptions but no illustrations. Only Bell Beaker Culture women's decor.Thanks for the article, jv

  2. Here's a good photo from a recent German grave:

    The same is zoomed in a little:

    Here's one necklace example, although it's difficult to see the shell if it's there:

    or this:

    If that's what it looked like, then the appearance of shell had little value, but it had great value in terms of it being imported and used in lieu of local materials.
    I'm not sure where it originates, but it sounds like it is specific to CW of Central Europe, at least this format

    1. Thank you for the article and the links.( lucky for me bloggers, internet research & Prehistory books are available!) CWC women in Bohemia & Central Germany certainly had ornate clothing and purses! Bet they made a jingling sound as they moved around! Thanks again for all this information! I'm very interested in artifacts of the CWC regional similarities & differences.(I have collection of pottery shards from Germany)I believe in Poland, CWC women were found with Amber solar discs or amulets.

    2. Not a full answer, but dog-tooth necklaces in Yamnaya
      form David Anthony's Horse, Wheel and Language

      also Michelsberg, though the main carnivore is not specified:

    3. One more from the Funnel Beakers

  3. Teeth threaten. When you manipulate and then wear them, you remove the danger. And perhaps protect from future threats. Pure speculation, of course. On another note, we are told by the nature-loving wolf-reintroduction advocates that wolves never attack humans. That is, statistically not significantly different from zero never. Maybe north american wolves are different.

    1. I saw this first hand in London when fox hunting was banned by parliament. I was right there walking through the crowd of idiots holding their signs. Lucky for them, foxes don't drag kids off.

      But wolf repopulating is quickly getting out of control. It's like the last five minutes of the Mars thriller-movie 'Life'. Whoops!

  4. Naiads are dragonfly nymphs.
    Possibly the curved fangs represented the lunar crescent monthly/mense. It may have displayed fecundity or taboo to hunters (who could lose their hunting status if 'touched' by a female during her period or post-pregnancy.
    Europeans extinguished the American wolf population, leaving none to eat humans, no myths to grow.

  5. Interesting idea. That would certainly be true for Artemis and the lunar boar's tusks. Anasyrma was a powerful apotropaism in much of human history. Canines are certainly lunar shaped.

  6. Sitting down this evening to research some family names. The name Margaret is Greek/Sanskrit (I.E) for Pearl. The patron saint of expectant mothers is Margaret. Perhaps the Corded Ware Culture solar shell disc was an amulet for young women of childbearing age.

    1. I see you mentioned Greek naiads-pearls being relevant to young girls & child bearing women in an I.E. context. Just one more point to make-I think the meaning of shell protection amulets is thousands of years older than the CWC Era. Mediterranean shells are found with LBK females, shells & fox teeth in Dolni Vestonice, shell necklaces with Natufian women. The use & meaning of shell jewelry perhaps followed us on our out of Africa migrations.

    2. Thanks for posting JV. It does seem the tradition is much older than I imagined, it must mean something. Obviously PIE religion is a continuation of much older beliefs of Europe and the Near East. It makes me wonder just how much belief continuity there is

    3. I'll just keep adding these to the list: