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Life and Death Companions: By Our Side

The earliest archaeological evidence of domesticated dog bones includes two significant findings: one in Germany, dating back 14,700 years, where a dog was interred alongside a couple; and another in Israel, dating back 12,000 years, where a woman was buried with a young puppy nestled under her arm.

In Greece, representations of dogs can be traced back to prehistoric times, predominantly found in Creto-Mycenaean art within hunting scenes. However, it was not until the Archaic period, commencing from the 7th century BC onwards, that the depiction of domesticated dogs emerged. These portrayals signify a notable shift in human perceptions of dogs, elevating them from mere utilitarian objects to esteemed companions in human life. Subsequent to this transformation, depictions of dogs in ancient Greek art flourished, solidifying them as the second most frequently portrayed animals after horses.

As I explore the upcoming book “Dogs from Ancient Times” by Panos Valavanis, scheduled for publication by Proti Yli publications and featuring exquisite illustrations by Chara Marantidou, I am profoundly touched. This sentiment is not solely due to the book’s content, which provides a plethora of information detailing the historical bond between dogs and humanity across various aspects of life – from leisurely strolls to symposiums, gymnasiums, wars, sanctuaries, and even literature. It is also a testament to the meticulous dedication of a distinguished archaeologist and university professor who extensively researches sources to offer invaluable insights. Furthermore, the fact that this endeavor was inspired by a former stray dog, Paco, who found his way into the Valavanis family and transformed their lives, adds an extra layer to the narrative.

What prompted the writing of a book about ancient dogs?

The inspiration stemmed from a desire to delve into the history of our beloved four-legged companions from their earliest existence. The focus was on their domestication, interactions with various cultures, and evolution alongside humans. The book predominantly delves into their portrayal in the history and iconography of ancient Greece, a rich source of information. Personally, the depictions of animals anthropomorphized with human speech and narratives were particularly intriguing. It allowed me to empathize with them and speak on their behalf, presenting a unique perspective beyond the typical scientific discourse.

Who was your primary target audience during the book’s creation?

While primarily aimed at children, I have observed from my other related works that readers of all ages are attracted to them. The key is to craft a book that engages its audience, regardless of age, keeping them enthralled and eager for more. I believe that the book, with its captivating layout and imaginative illustrations by Chara Marantidou, achieves this objective. Its goal is not only to impart knowledge in an entertaining manner but also to shape perceptions – in this case, fostering affection for animals.

Can you share three fascinating discoveries you unearthed during your research for the book?

One intriguing revelation was uncovering the origins and earliest evidence of animal domestication, a discovery that both surprised and delighted me. Additionally, I was fascinated by the ancient practice of categorizing breeds based on their distinct characteristics and virtues, showcasing the ancients’ precision and insights. The depictions and texts of dogs accompanying their owners in various activities, ranging from education and physical activities to warfare and hunting, were also particularly enlightening. Lastly, the poignant evidence of burials and artistic representations underscored the deep bond between dogs and their owners, especially children.
by-our-side-in-life-and-in-death0Illustration: Hara Marantidou

Do you have a pet yourself? What is the experience of sharing your life with an animal like?

All three contributors to the book – the editor, author, and illustrator – are dog owners. Living with an animal involves mutual respect and sharing daily life almost as equals. My dog, Paco, understands when I am occupied and the need for quiet, as well as recognizing times for walks, play, and companionship. Similarly, I make an effort to comprehend his needs, often prioritizing them, and together, we have established boundaries and routines in our shared space.

How do you define love for animals?

To me, loving an animal entails nurturing a relationship, coexisting, and evolving together while acknowledging its unique traits and requirements. By doing so, one transcends anthropocentric viewpoints, realizing oneself as part of a diverse array of creatures, rather than the dominant entity.

As a professor extraordinarius in Classical archaeology at the University of Athens, do you believe that love for animals can be cultivated through education, or is it an inherent quality?

The distinction between nature and nurture is often blurred in many aspects of life. I believe that love for animals can indeed be taught, much like any other concept. Significant lessons often begin within the confines of our homes, where values are instilled. Children raised alongside animals naturally learn to communicate and form bonds with them from a young age, fostering sensitivity and empathy. This lesson extends to interactions with fellow humans, emphasizing respect and selfless compassion, leading to an appreciation for the natural world and all living beings. Ultimately, love for animals can become synonymous with humanity.