Archaeological Survey of Pet Cemeteries Reveals the Evolution of Modern Pet Ownership

Sound archaeological evidence posits that dogs were the first human-bred animal; however, for centuries, they remained valued exclusively for their practicality in labor rather than their companionship (Ault 2016). Researchers today largely agree that modern pet-keeping began in Britain in the late 19th century. As researchers search through the archaeological record, increasing evidence shows that Victorians played a prominent role in reshaping historical opinions on pet ownership and human-animal relationships entirely. Though Victorians felt a level of emotional attachment towards their family pets similar to that in the modern day, their displays of such differ greatly due to societal values and beliefs then held (Ferguson 2019). Yet, as beliefs transformed over time, expressions of both adoration and grief over animals evolved as people began inquiring about the role of pets in the household and the spiritual identity of their animal companions (Tourigny 2020).

In 2020, historical researcher and archaeologist Eric Tourigny conducted a systematic survey on four of Britain’s largest pet cemeteries, analyzing stylistic symbolism and language on gravestones to investigate the change in attitudes and perspectives toward pet animals in addition to how those attitudes reflect the ideals, values, and controversies of particular periods.

Figure 1. Gravestones from Hyde Park Cemetery. Photo by Eric Tourigny.

Tourigny’s study of Victorian pet gravestones reveals a general initial hesitance toward acknowledging a spiritual essence within animals, observing that many epitaphs display a reluctance or doubt in realizing an animal afterlife similar to that of humans (Tourigny 2020). Some epitaphs, according to Tourigny, are “carefully worded so as only to suggest or hope for reunification in an afterlife”. Moreover, the vocabulary and information included in many epitaphs of earlier gravestones reveal that pets likely occupied a particular role and space within the family unequal to those of their humans (Tourigny 2020). For instance, Tourigny mentions that many Victorian gravestones contain epitaphs strictly referring to animals as “pets”, “companions”, or “friends”, often only listing their behavioral obedient and loyal qualities. Commemorators also rarely included family surnames when referencing their pets (Tourigny 2020). These trends, Tourigny suggests, portray a time in which pets were emotionally valued additions to households but regarded mostly as non-members of the family.

Towards the end of the second world war, perspectives on animal spirituality and household roles began to pivot. As society became increasingly accepting of religious beliefs going into the mid-century, people became comfortable expressing religious affiliation in the memorialization of their pets (Tourigny 2020). References to the afterlife became commonplace, and religious symbolism began to appear in the designs of gravestones (Tourigny 2020). Additionally, Tourigny notes that a sudden increase in the presence of family surnames on gravestones (see Figure 2) insinuates a general acceptance of pets as true members of the family.

Figure 2. The Use of Family Surnames on Animal Gravestones Over Time. Figure by Eric Tourigny.

Not only does Tourigny’s survey of pet cemeteries aim to understand the transformation of human-animal relationships in recent centuries, but it seeks to understand the influence animals and pet ownership had on initiating transitions in familial, cultural, and societal values. To accomplish this, Tourigny approaches the history of pet ownership through a multi-species archaeological lens by examining how humans have shaped the familial role of pets as well as how pets have inadvertently promoted the individual expression and even re-evaluation of societal beliefs at particular points in history.

To read Eric Tourigny’s research paper, click here.

To read more about Victorian influence on pet-keeping, click here.


Ault, Alicia. “Ask Smithsonian: When Did People Start Keeping Pets?” Smithsonian Magazine. Last modified September 28, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2022.

Ferguson, Donna. “How the Victorians turned mere beasts into man’s best friends.” The Guardian. Last modified October 19, 2019. Accessed October 30, 2022.

Tourigny, Eric. “Do all dogs go to heaven? Tracking human-animal relationships through the archaeological survey of pet cemeteries.” Cambridge Core. Last modified October 27, 2020. Accessed October 30, 2022.

How Satellite Imagery and Crowd-Sourcing Can Revolutionize Archaeology

In 2016, seasoned archaeologist Sarah Parcak stood and spoke at the annual TED Conference in Banff, Canada, announcing the fully-funded launch of the first-ever crowd-sourced archaeological program. Dr. Parcak’s vision for this project was to allow the masses to play a role in archaeological site survey and research, which would expedite the path to archaeological discovery and preserve cultural heritage for many.

Aiming to publicize archaeology by seeking the service of thousands of “citizen scientists,” Parcak hoped to fully revolutionize the modern field of archaeological study. This envisioned revolution would build a larger network of archaeological data, drawing public attention to the need for archaeological discovery, and prioritizing the preservation of archaeological sites from threats such as looting (GlobalXplorer 2019). But Parcak’s ambitious plan was not without a fundamental method for archaeological survey: aerial satellite imaging.

Using high-quality aerial imagery provided by DigitalGlobe, thousands of randomly selected satellite images would be uploaded onto the GlobalXplorer portal and made available for volunteer participants to analyze (GlobalXplorer 2018). Learning how to spot potential archaeological sites as well as signs of looting, these suitingly-named “Xplorers” would be trained in video courses provided by the GlobalXplorer team (Hersher 2017).

The participants would next be shown a series of 300-by-300-meter satellite image tiles that they could then identify as a potential archaeological site or looted site (see Figure 1) (GlobalXplorer 2018). As these pictures would be filtered through tens of thousands of trained volunteers, images with the most positive feedback would be marked for trained specialists, such as Sarah Parcak herself, to analyze and further investigate (GlobalXplorer 2018). While the location of sites with confirmed looting activity could be forwarded to local government authorities, GlobalXplorer’s team of archaeologists could determine whether a potential site was ready for physical survey and documentation by partner local archaeologists (GlobalXplorer 2018). With as much manpower as it exhibits, GlobalXplorer is able to fully map large portions of entire countries, as they did Peru by analyzing 14 million total individual tiles in preparation for their first expedition (GlobalXplorer 2018).

Figure 1. The GlobalXplorer platform showing the crowd-sourced site identification program. Photo by GlobalXplorer Platform.

In total, Xplorers from around the world helped locate over 19,000 sites of archaeological interest in Peru, of which roughly 40 high-interest sites were selected for a ground-truthing expedition carried out by local archaeological and geological experts (GlobalXplorer 2018). The captured data would then be turned over to Peruvian authorities to allow the sites to be registered under the protection of the state (GlobalXplorer 2018). During their expedition, on-ground experts recorded what they believed to be undocumented geoglyphs (see Figure 2) related to Peru’s renowned Nasca lines (GlobalXplorer 2018).

Figure 2. Drone Image of geoglyphs in Peru identified by GlobalXplorer’s crowd. Photo by Luis Jaime Castillo Butters.

The successes in Peru are merely a glimpse of what the archaeological world can achieve when pairing a wealth of geographical data provided by satellite imagery with masses of individuals who see the value in locating and protecting sites of archaeological and even cultural significance. With further development of these opportunities and global networks, archaeology can be improved to better protect the sites that hold importance throughout local communities as well as the world.

For more information on GlobalXplorer, or to get involved when GlobalXplorer plans its next expedition, visit:


GlobalXplorer. “About the GlobalXplorer° Project.” GlobalXplorer. Last modified 2019. Accessed September 11, 2022.

GlobalXplorer. “GlobalXplorer° Completes Its First Expedition: What the Crowd Found in Peru.” Medium. Last modified April 10, 2018. Accessed September 11, 2022.

GlobalXplorer. “Welcome to GlobalXplorerº!” Medium. Last modified April 3, 2018. Accessed September 11, 2022.

Hersher, Rebecca. “Space Archaeologist Wants Citizen Scientists To Identify Archaeological Looting.” NPR. Last modified January 31, 2017. Accessed September 11, 2022.