Anyang Mortuary Puppies: Zooarchaeology Sees Anyang Society from Bones

Zooarchaeology entails the study of both microscopic chemical compounds and macroscopic societies and cultures. Its ability to see large through small is perfectly exemplified by the study of Anyang mortuary puppies. Located in the Central Plains of China (Figure 1), the city houses the remains of mortuary puppies from the Bronze Age, circa 1250 to 1050 BCE. Defying the norm of ancient Chinese dog burials, the sacrificed juvenile dogs provoke examinations of the social, cultural, and economic context of the settlement.

Figure 1. Map of China’s Central Plains, including Anyang. From Li & Campbell (2019).

Anyang’s neighboring Bronze Age cultural regions rarely carry bone remains of dogs less than six months of age. Most lived for 12 to 18 months, fulfilling an ideal age and death pattern for meat production, as it yields maximized animal size. However, Anyang differs (Figure 2). Among the 84 dog remains discovered in the Xiaomintou tomb, 37% lived less than six months and 73% less than one year (Li & Campbell 2019:169). This suggests that these dogs were not killed for consumption; their uniformly premature death also negates the claim that they were buried sentimentally as pets. It raises two big questions: one of their origins, another of their early demise.

Figure 2. “Waist pit” dog interments in Dasikongcun tomb, Anyang. Photo from Institute of Archaeology, 2014, vol. 2, pp. 2, plate 39.

Li and Campbell (2019:169) suggest that Anyang’s Bronze Age society may have a specialized compartment that supplies juvenile dogs for ritual purposes. According to them, the local mortuary practice of pairing the deceased with puppies would require an adult dog population of over 500 year-round. Moreover, surviving oracle-bone inscriptions document the governmental procurement of hundreds of dogs in a short time for royal rituals. This implies a somewhat professional dog economy, where canine husbandry and distribution were mature enough to support the local population and official events of massive scale.

The authors endorse two theories regarding the dogs’ young age. They propose that juvenile may be chosen because a shorter life span equates less sentimental attachment from humans. Though it contains referential value, this theory borders on ethnocentrism, since viewing puppies as cute pets of emotional attachment is a modern Western interpretation, and the emotional appeal of juvenile dogs is contingent upon local Anyang ontologies. Another practical explanation stands: sacrificing juvenile puppies rather than dogs reared to maturity is more economic. This links the dogs to locally abundant miniature, unfinished, and fake grave goods, suggesting the Anyang society’s cession of material, economic capital to symbolic capital.

Although the Anyang burial sites supply only ecofacts, they solicit conversations of much grander scales relating to the society, culture, and economy. By virtue of their taxon and age, the bone remains invite investigations of the larger background that created and disposed of them. Beyond the anthrosphere, they shed light on temporally removed human-animal relationships. The Anyang mortuary puppies, among with other Bronze Age dog burials, illuminate a fluid, spectral construct of animality, ranging from the lowest and inanimate as food and the highest and potent as pseudo-human companions. Beyond the juvenile bone remains, beyond the Bronze Age, such range of human-animal interconnections continue to this day.


Works Cited

Li, Zhipeng, and Roderick Campbell.

    2019 Puppies for the Ancestors: The many roles of Shang dogs. Archaeological    

    Research in Asia, vol. 17, pp. 161-72.


Further Readings

Savino di Lernia, Mary Anne Tafuri, Marina Gallinaro, Francesca Alhaique, Marie Balasse, Lucia Cavorsi, Paul D. Fullagar, Anna Maria Mercuri, Andrea Monaco, Alessandro Perego, and Andrea Zerboni.

    2013 Inside the “African Cattle Complex”: Animal Burials in the Holocene Central 

    Sahara. Public Library of Science.


Thomas Cucchi, Lingling Dai, Marie Balasse, Chunqing Zhao, Jiangtao Gao, Yaowu Hu, Jing Yuan, and Jean-Denis Vigne.

    2016 Social Complexification and Pig (Sus scrofa) Husbandry in Ancient China: A 

    Combined Geometric Morphometric and Isotopic Approach. Public Library of    


Is There Really No History? Archaeology Sacrificed

Like Olive and Kent, my hometown Shenzhen is said to have no history, despite discoveries of Neolithic artifacts. I ask why.

Figure 1. Shenzhen’s Central Business District at sunset. Photograph from China Daily, available at

Hong Kong’s neighbor and one of China’s fastest-growing cities, Shenzhen (Figure 1) is known by its own residents to have no history. The Reform and Opening-Up Policy of 1980 jump-started the city we know today, which is so densely populated with young elites and world-class IT companies that it seems as fresh as its technology. Allegedly, prior to the Policy, Shenzhen was a nameless, pastless fishing village.

Archaeology proves otherwise. A 2006 excavation at the Xiantouling archaeological site unearthed Neolithic features and artifacts from 7,000 years ago, evincing the existence of a history quite remarkable in scope within city borders (Li & Liu 2007). Located in Longgang District, the sandy hill preserved ancient features such as hearths and stone poles, alongside earthenware like cups (Figure 2), dishes, and vessel-bases and stone tools like stampers. The quantity and quality of features and artifacts indicate that Xiantouling may be the center of contemporary Pearl River Delta settlements. Moreover, shared stylistic features between Xiantouling wares and those discovered in Hunan Province position the site in an even larger cultural background. Subsequently, the site was rated as one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in China in 2006 (China Heritage Project 2007).

Figure 2. White earthen cup discovered at the Xiantouling Neolithic site. Photograph from the article by Hairong Li and Junxiong Liu in Kaogu (2007.7).

However, despite Xiantouling’s monumentality, the tale of no history prevailed. In fact, few of my family and friends know of the site, and none recall the announcement of its discovery. I was never taught of it in school. Famed on paper, Xiantouling is barely recognized by its very own townspeople. 

This lack of local exposure leads me to question Shenzhen’s official propaganda. In a society where the government controls public opinion through information dissemination, people’s perception of history is often molded by the city council and its sanctioned news. If Shenzhen wishes to maintain a youthful city image, such ancient discoveries may be downplayed in mainstream media and city propaganda. Therefore, I infer that Shenzhen has forsaken Xiantouling in exchange for an image of development, youth, and innovation — as a city that chases the future, not the past. To expand its history from a convenient 40 years to a strenuous 7,000 is to murder the spectacle of over-night success. Indeed, even on the city’s official website, its history is only briefly mentioned in a subpage — with the name Xiantouling nowhere to be found — and development projects dominate the rest of the website (Shenzhen Government). Similar to New York City’s Watershed Communities, in my town, archaeology and history are sacrificed for a political agenda. 

Known for information technology, Shenzhen is unaware that 7,000 years ago on the same land lived a people who embodied the same spirit of craftsmanship as they developed the technology of their times. Archaeology is a sacrifice; buried with it is this ancestral bond, a bond between today’s programmers and prehistory’s potters, a bond between the neolithic and modern times.


Li, Hairong and Junxiong Liu

  2007  The Xiantouling Neolithic Site at Shenzhen City, Guangdong. Kaogu (7): 9-16.,%20Guangdong.pdf. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

China Heritage Project

  2007  China’s Archaeological Oscars: The Top Ten Discoveries of 2006. China Heritage Quarterly (11). Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

Shenzhen Government

Brief Introduction to Shenzhen. Entering Shenzhen. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

Further Readings

  1. Chi, Zhang and Hung Hsiao-Chun, The Neolithic of Southern China–Origin, Development, and Dispersal:–Origin_Development_and_Dispersal
  2. Chi, Zhang and Hsiao-chun Hung, Later hunter-gatherers in southern China, 18000-3000 BC: