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“Cleveland” was the affectionate name by which researchers at McMaster University came to refer to a dog in their archaeological collections.

“Cleveland” was the affectionate name by which researchers at McMaster University came to refer to a dog in their archaeological collections. (Bathurst and Barta, 2004). Originally discovered on the Cleveland archaeological site near Brantford, Ontario, the dog was an unusual find – a complete burial recovered within what remained of a large ceramic pot. From the robust markings on the skull and a distinctive bone called a baculum, or “penis bone”, found among the remains, there was no doubt that Cleveland had been a male. Minimal dental wear and almost no deterioration in the joints indicated that he was likely no older than three or four years old at the time of his death. Measurements of his limbs determined that he had likely once stood about knee-height to an adult human.

A micro-CT scan of Cleveland’s skull

Dogs are humanity’s oldest domestic companions, and recent research confirms that they were present in North America over 10,000 years ago. (Perri et al, 2018) Archaeological evidence of dog remains suggest that the agricultural communities living in the Brantford area 450 years ago had complex relationships with their dogs. While some were carefully buried whole and undisturbed, as Cleveland was, other remains have been found burnt, broken, sometimes polished around the edges from bouncing around in a boiling pot, scarred by cuts or gnaw-marks, and scattered among the garbage heaps – or middens – within the same communities. Some dogs, it seems, were invited to dinner, whereas others were dinner.

There are things we can presume about ancient dogs that we cannot see or confirm from archaeological evidence. We know from our relationships with them today, as well as from historic accounts and traditional knowledge, that dogs would have served many purposes in a community, from labourers to companions. They would have been helpful on a hunt, and loyal guardians within a village. They would have eaten scraps and garbage, controlling waste, and driven away predators around a village or pests within the fields of crops. They may even have helped as pack animals, prior to the arrival of the horse, bearing burdens from one community to the next. Dogs feature in many traditional narratives as loyal and helpful companions to humans in both life – and in death.

Cleveland’s remains show that he suffered from a condition called hypertrophic osteopathy, or HPO, a painful and obvious bone condition that may have been caused by a reaction to lung-related infections such as pneumonia, cancer, or tuberculosis. Thanks to modern veterinary medicine, HPO is condition that is not seen often today and can be readily cured when it is. The archaeologists were particularly interested in knowing whether Cleveland’s condition was caused by tuberculosis, because TB is a zoonotic disease – that is, an infection that can be shared between animals and humans. Therefore, they tested Cleveland’s bones for evidence of tuberculosis DNA – and they found it. This told them two interesting things about the relationship between humans and dogs in this ancient community.

Cleveland’s left calcaneus and metatarsals displaying proliferative perio- steal reaction, characteristic of hypertrophic osteopathy.

First, Cleveland was cared for. With HPO and tuberculosis, he would have looked and acted very sick, with symptoms of TB such as weight loss, cough, and vomiting. The HPO would have swollen his paws and lower limbs, making them thick and painful and difficult to move. He likely would have required assistance eating and drinking and would not have been able to defend himself. The advanced state of the condition suggested that he’d lived with the condition for some time. His remains showed no evidence of cut marks, gnawing, nor any other indication of violence or abuse. This suggested to the archaeologists that Cleveland was able to rely on his human companions for food, protection, and care as his illness progressed. People in this ancient village cared for this dog in much the same way we do with our pets today.

Second, Cleveland’s condition potentially posed a great and unexpected danger to those who were caring for him. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that the World Health Organization still considers one of the top 10 causes of death, worldwide. (World Health Organization, 2018) Just as it can be passed from person to person, it can also be passed between humans and animals. Tragically, those who had cared so tenderly for this dog, may have become infected themselves, and in turn may have passed this deadly condition along to others in the community – human and canine, alike.

Despite his short and difficult life, Cleveland appears to have been tenderly cared for by his human companions. Almost 500 years later, his discovery has sparked over 20 years of research – from his archaeological recovery to historic, pathological, etiological, DNA, microscopic, and microCT research that has served to teach us all more about the conditions he and his human companions once lived in and the relationship that they once shared. 

Dr. Rhonda Bathurst is the lead author on the research paper that this story is drawn from (you can read this article in full at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440303001985). Dr. Bathurst wrote it during her PhD at McMaster University after her (re)discovery of the Cleveland dog remains in a locked cabinet in a basement archaeology lab. She collaborated with a fellow PhD candidate at the time, Jodi Barta, who was working in the newly built McMaster Ancient DNA Centre. Barta helped her to confirm the hunch she had about the dog’s primary condition – tuberculosis. Today Dr. Bathurst is the Executive Director of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and is delighted to share this story about her favourite dog.

To read more about Cleveland, other research involving this dog includes:

James A. Burns. “The Dog Who Couldn’t Be.” Arch Notes, 73 (1973): 3–5. Print.

Barta, Jodi Lynn. “Man’s Best Friend: Implications of Tuberculosis in a 16th Century Neutral Iroquois Dog from Canada.” Multiplying and Dividing: Tuberculosis in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Judith Littleton et al., Research in Anthropology and Linguistics, 2008, pp. 22–30, www.researchgate.net/publication/270904768_Man’s_best_friend_Implications_of_tuberculosis_in_a_16th_century_Neutral_Iroquois_dog_from_Canada.

Hunnius, T. Von. “Using Microscopy to Improve a Diagnosis: an Isolated Case of Tuberculosis-Induced Hypertrophic Osteopathy in Archaeological Dog Remains.” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, vol. 19, no. 3, 2009, pp. 397–405., onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/oa.989.

Works Cited

Bathurst, Rhonda R., and Jodi Lynn Barta. “Molecular Evidence of Tuberculosis Induced Hypertrophic Osteopathy in a 16th-Century Iroquoian Dog.” Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 31, no. 7, 2004, pp. 917–925., https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440303001985.

Perri, Angela, et al. “New Evidence of the Earliest Domestic Dogs in the Americas .” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 26 Dec. 2018, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-antiquity/article/new-evidence-of-the-earliest-domestic-dogs-in-the-americas/0DBDDAAD435BBFD7A929F0C2FC7CD365.

“Tuberculosis (TB).” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 18 Sept. 2018, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tuberculosis.