Like Cats and Dogs

Digs & Discoveries July/August 2024

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On the periphery of Zamárdi, an ancient lakeshore settlement in west-central Hungary, archaeologists uncovered a nearly five-foot-deep beehive-shaped pit with the skeletons of four adult dogs buried in successive shallow layers. Stretched out at the bottom of the pit was an unusual find—the skeleton of a male Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), a notoriously shy creature. The feline’s bones were radiocarbon dated to the mid-fifth to mid-sixth century A.D.—the Migration Period, during which various tribes invaded Roman provinces, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. “Finding a complete lynx skeleton is special because not many have been discovered in archaeological contexts,” says zooarchaeologist László Bartosiewicz of Stockholm University. “Humans definitely buried this lynx, but we have little idea why or how they came into contact with the animal.”

Analysis of the skeleton by zooarchaeologist Erika Gál of the Hungarian Research Network’s Institute of Archaeology and Bartosiewicz determined that the lynx was fully grown. By comparing the feline’s cranium with lynx specimens in European museum collections, they found that the Zamárdi lynx was larger than average. Since the bones of neither the lynx nor the dogs have skinning marks, Gál and Bartosiewicz explain, it is unlikely the animals were hunted. Instead, they speculate that the lynx and dogs may have killed or mortally wounded each other in a fight, after which Zamárdi’s inhabitants buried them in the pit.

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