Presidential Pets, What can they tell us about society and individuals?

Archaeology can tell us about the Social and Political lives of people. One way this can be examined is by the relationship between humans and animals. Since the start of Democracy in the United States there have only been two presidents who chose not to have a pet, James K Polk and Donald Trump (Summers, 2023). While the most popular pet amongst US Presidents is a dog there have been pets ranging from laughing hyenas (Theodore Roosevelt) to mice from the Whitehouse (Andrew Johnson). While examining the pets in this way can be a human centered approach, the examination can give insight into the most intimate parts of presidents and their families as well as what was socially acceptable by society at the time, due to the public facing nature of being a president.

Socially, presidential pets can give a reading of the American people. One example of this can be seen with dogs. With 73% of all Presidents having a dog, they are the most popular pet amongst presidents (Summers 2023). That said, this can also tell us that Dogs are the most popular amongst the American people, the people who elect the president, with 44.5% of American families owning dogs (Megna 2023).

Image 1. From left to right Herbert Hoover (left) and King Tut his dog used to show voters he had a soft side, Bill Clinton(top right) with his dog buddy and Ronald Reagan (Bottom Right) with Lucky. Showing the endearing nature and relationship between presidents and their dogs. (Cherner 2022)

 Another example of presidential pets showing what is socially acceptable can be seen by President Teddy Roosevelt’s Hyena, Bill, a gift from King Menelik of Abyssinia from Ethiopia (Bryson Taylor 2020). This shows how over time societies understanding and care for animals has changed. In 1904, when Bill lived in the Whitehouse it was socially acceptable to have an animal that has no place being a city. However, as our society has grown and become less human centered it is now illegal to own a Hyena in the US (Basu 2023), a testament to our understanding of societies understanding of how our actions impact animals.

While these pets can be a pulse on society, they can also give unique windows into people’s lives. An example of this is the naming of animals, showing that they are cared for but also the names themselves can give insight into the people taking care of them. One of Theodore Roosevelt’s 14 pets (their horse Algonquin being one of them, seen in image 2) was his daughter, Alice’s garter snake named “Emily Spinach” (National Park Service 2020). First this seems like a juvenile name there is more meaning behind it with Alice saying that the name was picked, “because it was green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily” immediately showing that Alice had some relationship with her aunt who was a thin individual. Oftentimes by naming things they become more humanized (Hymes 2022) so her pet snake became a more important animal tied into her observations of people she cared about. 

To conclude, the presidential pets give a unique ability to look into the lives of these incredibly prominent figures while also understanding how our society is functioning on a social level. 

Image 2. The Roosevelts pony Algonquin with Quentin, Theodore’s son, in the Whitehouse. (National Park Service 2020)

Further Reading Links:

The White House Pets:

Weirdest Presidential Pets in History:


Basu, Lex. “Are Hyenas Dogs (Canines) or Cats (Felines) or Something Else Entirely?” AZ Animals, October 3, 2023.

Bryson Taylor, Derrick. “When the White House Was Full of Claws, Scales, Stripes and Tails.” New York Times, November 14, 2022.

Cherner, Jessica. “10 Photos of Adorable Presidential Dogs and Their Owners-in-Chief.” New York Post, July 5, 2022.

Hymes, Kathryn. “Naming Objects Is the Opposite of Thoughtless Consumption.” The Atlantic, April 18, 2022.

Megna, Michelle. “Pet Ownership Statistics 2023.” Forbes, October 18, 2023.,29%25%20of%20households%20own%20cats.

“The Roosevelt Pets.” National Parks Service, November 22, 2020.

Summers, Robert S. “Types of Pets.” POTUS, 2023.

LiDAR and Its Applications to Incredible Discoveries in Guatemala

By: Kieran Chai-Onn

As technology continues to advance, our world is able to continue advancing at an incredible rate. In recent years archaeologists have used the increase in technology to look into the past and provide lessons from our history. By using ground penetrating lasers known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) archeologists are able to find sites (locations of past human activity) that have previously been covered in dense vegetation or in remote areas (Nicioli, 2023). LiDAR has been extremely useful in the thick rainforests of South America where trying to find past Mayan civilizations has proven difficult for two main reasons. Firstly, the Amazon rainforest covers nearly 40% of the South American continent so LiDAR makes covering nearly 2.72 million square miles feasible (Butler,2022). Secondly, by getting through such dense vegetation you could very easily harm ecosystems. So while LiDAR itself is incredible what was found in Guatemala is a true testament to the power of advancing technology in the archeological sector. 

LiDAR Images of causeways found in Guatemala. Ryan Whitwam 2017.

In the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin (MCKB) nearly 775 ancient Maya settlements were revealed in, “one of the largest, contiguous, regional LiDAR studies published to date” (Hansen et al, 2022). In order to achieve these discoveries the process began in 2015 with two aerial surveys of over 1703 square kilometers within the southern half of the MCKB (Hansen et al, 2022). With such an expansive project the LiDAR was able to help cover the region but also allowed archaeologists to learn about the region through, “mapping of settlement observations and cultural features, and enabled detailed environmental, geological, geomorphological, and hydrological interpretation” (Hansen et al, 2022). 

While the Technology is undoubtedly fascinating it is what can be taken away from these LiDAR surveys that really gives us a better understanding of those who walked this earth centuries ago. The discovery of 417 interconnected Mayan cities connected by raised causeways completely changed the modern perception of transportation at the time (Nicioli, 2022). With this interconnectedness of their cities, it has become fascinating how these causeways were a means of communication between people from city to city. While it is assumed that there were no wheeled vehicles on the roads they at times were almost half a football field wide, acting like a spiderweb connecting town to town much like the North American highway system (Nicioli, 2022). Finally, this showed the systematic consistency of construction amongst Mayans because they stacked boxes similar to their pyramids to create the highways (Nicioli, 2022). With incredible construction and many lessons to be taken away, it is fascinating to learn from the Mayans how things we consider modern luxuries might not be so modern after all. 

Above are the raised causeways discovered within the rainforest. Taken by the University of Cambridge (Hansen 2022).

With the use of LiDAR, an incredible understanding of the Mayans has taught us how powerful being an interconnected system of cities can be even centuries ago; something that all would have been hidden and consumed by the sprawling Amazon rainforest. 

Further Research Links: 

The use of LiDAR to find ancient civilizations:

How the Mayan Highways were used:,divert%20surface%20water%20(Pugh).

Works Cited

Butler, Rhett A. “Facts about the Amazon Rainforest for 2022.” Mongabay, February 25, 2022.

Hansen, Richard D., Carlos Morales-Aguilar, Josephine Thompson, Ross Ensley, Enrique Hernández, Thomas Schreiner, Edgar Suyuc-Ley, and Gustavo Martínez. “LiDAR Analyses in the Contiguous Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, Guatemala: An Introduction to New Perspectives on Regional Early Maya Socioeconomic and Political Organization.” Ancient Mesoamerica, December 5, 2022, 1–40.

Nicioli, Taylor. “Discovery of ‘superhighways’ Suggests Early Mayan Civilization Was More Advanced than Previously Thought.” CNN, February 16, 2023.

Whitwam, Ryan. “Lidar Used to Map Ancient Mayan Superhighway System.” Extreme Tech. Extreme Tech, January 31, 2017.