Dogs Once Featured as California Cuisine

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Evidence is growing that dogs were once valued for their meat and regularly were consumed in California and likely other places throughout the world.

“Dogs are reared (or were) largely for the flesh which they supply ... like the farmer’s yellow-legged chicken, when other meat is scarce,” wrote Stephen Powers of the U.S. Department of the Interior, referring to the practices of Yokut Native Americans in his 1877 “Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region.”

In 1991, Lynn Snyder in a University of Tennessee publication, noted that dogs often have a high fat content compared to other food sources and, unlike wild animals, their fat content varies little between seasons. Dogs then would have been an attractive food source, particularly during the winter and early spring, when wild food sources were lean.

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The latest evidence comes from a recent study of multiple 2,000-year-old canine burials in California, with a focus on what are now the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Delta regions. The study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science, represents the first to employ DNA analysis on canines from archaeological sites in the golden state.

Some of the California canine remains previously had been attributed to coyotes and wolves, but DNA determined the bones belonged to dogs.

Certain burials showed that the dogs had their hindquarters removed before internment. Dog bones were also found buried with a wide range of associated offerings, such as red ochre, quartz crystals, pipes, abalone shells and baskets still containing seeds.

Native American tribes, such as the Ohlone, Coast Miwok and Patwin, dominated the territories at the time. Differences in the dog burials could therefore reflect differences in how dogs were valued and treated by the diverse groups.