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.

Pet Cemeteries Allow Us to Understand The Past: Hyde Park

By: Aidan Wisherd

At first glance, a pet cemetery may be seen as a place that solely remembers an animal and its relation to a human. A refined archaeological approach develops understanding that a pet cemetery says as much about humans as it does pets. Hyde Park in the United Kingdom is the oldest pet cemetery in the nation and has over 1,000 pet remains (Aridi 2020). Burials display a shifting relationship between humans and their companions, with funerary practice changing from remain disposal to a sustained grieving period in the UK after World War II (Aridi 2020). The relationship between humans and animals, in the form of pets, can be seen in the archaeologically observed monuments and remains.

Figure 1. Grave site of Butcha from late 19th Century in the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery (Rowan 2017)

The UK saw a shift to pet-keeping in the late 18th and early 19th century that gave way for a relationship that included emotional attachment, illustrated through the burial of Cherry the dog. Before 1881, elites would hold funerals or formal burial for pets, but Cherry’s owner asked for the dog to be buried in Hyde Park (Tourigny 2020). Careful observation of the cemetery that has since expanded vastly allows for archaeologists to examine even the shifts in the gravestones themselves since inception. Comparable to human burial ground examinations in many cases, monuments and stones have been moved in the pet cemetery, but much is still able to be revealed. 

The early 20th century assessment of Hyde Park illustrates a shift in familial attachment to pets. After World War II, use of family names in addition to the pet’s name on a monument, as well as references to father and mother, became evermore apparent (Aridi 2020). This marks a greater public display of pets as family members. A similar change in the cemetery’s narratives was the incorporation of religion on tombstone’s, alluding to a deeper level of companionship following the Second World War (Aridi 2020). The cemeteries, therefore, become indicative not solely of how a pet behaved but rather how the pet shifted the behavior of its human owners.

Figure 2. Mr. Twister and Raspberry are buried in the Presidio Pet Cemetery in San Francisco, California with a note from their “father” Ken. (California Pet Cemeteries)

Examining early pet cemeteries for shifts in human actions is incredibly useful for the determination of shifts in human behavior. Archaeological examination allows for an understanding of behavior rather than broad generalities on a pet’s honorary epigraph. Through surveying and excavation of sites, visible shifts in specific cultural approaches to funerary practices for animals can be observed through monuments and grave sites. The assessment must be done that not only does human interaction affect animals that have been domesticated, but that the animals also play a key role in a shift in human behavior. 


Helpful Links:

Smithsonian Piece on Hyde Park

Cambridge Article on UK Pet Cemeteries


Works Cited

Aridi, Rasha. “Pet Cemeteries Reveal Evolution of Humans’ Relationships with Furry Friends.”, Smithsonian Institution, 28 Oct. 2020, 

“California Pet Cemeteries.”, 

Rowan, Lily. “The Secret Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park.” History Daily, 7 Dec. 2017, 

Tourigny, Eric. “Do All Dogs Go to Heaven? Tracking Human-Animal Relationships through the Archaeological Survey of Pet Cemeteries.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 27 Oct. 2020, 

Community Efforts to Preserve the Presidio Pet Cemetery

In a small, unassuming plot of land in San Francisco’s Presidio, the Presidio Pet Cemetery is home to pets owned by military families since WWII (Gradwohl 2000, 22). The cemetery’s unkempt nature contrasts the pristine and orderly appearance of the nearby military veteran cemetery where the owners of these pets lie. Animals like dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, rats, hamsters, birds, and an iguana reside in the cemetery located under a highway overpass, portraying a conflicting message of what this obscure cemetery provides for the archaeological record (Gradwohl 2000, 22). As a San Francisco resident, the Presidio Pet Cemetery has always been an inconspicuous area made unappealing due to its inconvenient location under a highway overpass and its untidy appearance (Figure 1). However, beyond the aesthetics, the history of the cemetery is one of community perseverance and the recognition of animals and their effect on human history.

Figure 1. The Presidio Pet Cemetery in San Francisco, California. Photograph by Jasmine Garnett.

The Presidio Pet Cemetery demonstrates animals’ sociocultural significance in human history and provides a glimpse into the world of multispecies and post-humanist archaeology. Multispecies archaeology is the study of non-human species’ intricate lives and their impacts on human lives, politics, and culture; post-humanist archaeology is of a similar belief where non-human species are analyzed to study the past. By examining the cemetery through a multispecies and post-humanist view, the decorations and emotional epitaphs on the gravestones suggest these animals were loved and provided military families comfort in a tumultuous life. The most lavish graves, belonging to basset hounds Mr. Twister and Raspberry are a prime example as they are complete with large granite gravestones decorated with plants, artificial flowers, small basset hound figurines, mylar balloons, and heartwarming epitaphs (Gradwohl 2000, 24) (Figure 2). 

Figure 2. The ornate graves of basset hounds, Mr. Twister and Raspberry, in the Presidio Pet Cemetery. (Flickr 2008).

While the cemetery is intertwined with Presidio’s military history, it is considered a non-contributing feature in the Presidio of San Francisco Historic Landmark District (Kelly 2015). According to the Cultural Resource Management (CRM), a non-contributing site “does not add to the historic architectural qualities, historical or traditional cultural associations, or archaeological values for which a property is significant” (National Park Service 2002). While the pet cemetery lacks federal protection, the local community has overseen its preservation since its establishment in 1952. Groups like Boy Scouts of America, Swords Into Plowshares, and volunteers of the Presidio Trust have conserved the cemetery over the past 70 years even without the CRM’s protection (Kelly 2015). In 2011, the reconstruction of Doyle Drive (the highway overpass above the cemetery) threatened the cemetery’s destruction, but the construction management team labeled it as an environmentally sensitive area, and the community advocated for its protection as an emotionally sensitive area (Kelly 2015). Despite the lack of federal protection, public and community efforts work to immortalize the pet cemetery, exemplifying how present-day humans can decide what is historically significant – whether or not they are human. 


Garnett, Jasmine. “Dedicated Neighbors Keep a Pet Cemetery and Presidio History, Alive.” KQED. Last modified February 29, 2020. Accessed October 25, 2022.

Gradwohl, David Mayer. “Parakeet to Paradise.” Archaeology 53, no. 3 (2000): 22–24.

Kelly, Bryan. “The Nine Lives of San Francisco’s Presidio Pet Cemetery.” Inversr. Last modified October 21, 2015. Accessed October 25, 2022.

National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior. “NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline.” National Park Service. Last modified August 2002. Accessed October 25, 2022.

SmugMug+Flickr. “Mr. Twister and Raspberry.” Flickr. Last modified August 21, 2008. Accessed October 25, 2022.

Further Reading:

“Presidio pet cemetery protected”

“Dedicated Neighbors Keep a Pet Cemetery, and Presidio History, Alive”