A History of Dogs in the Early Americas


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Marion Schwartz; With selected drawings by Susan Hochgraf

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For more than 12,000 years the dog has coexisted with humans in the Americas, following pathways much different from those of dogs in Europe and Asia. New World dogs have been viewed as sacred and profane, as deities, as eaters of excrement, and as valued food. This entertaining and enlightening book examines the fluctuating status of dogs in Native America from prehistory to the present.

Drawing on chronicles, ethnographies, archaeological reports, myths, biology, and a rich array of visual materials, Marion Schwartz investigates views about dogs in a wide range of native societies in North and South America. She discusses the early domestication of the dog and looks at how hunting and gathering peoples relied on dogs to help with the hunt and to transport food and goods. She provides details about the eating of dogs for ritual purposes or as a dietary staple. She describes how dogs were associated with the afterlife, where they functioned as guides or guards, and how dogs were buried in tombs or were sacrificed to the gods in many cultures. She examines pre-Columbian art to see how the dog was portrayed and the various meanings attributed to it. The book concludes with a description of the fierce war dogs brought by the Spanish to wreak havoc among the Indians—dogs unlike any the New World had ever seen—and how traditional societies reinvented their relationship with dogs after the arrival of the Europeans.

Marion Schwartz is a research assistant in the department of anthropology at Yale University.

A selection of the Natural Science Book Club and the Newbridge Book Club

"An excellent review of the history of the dog in North and South America. I admire the erudition with which the author has placed this history in the context of the cultures of the native Americans over the last 2000 years."—Juliet Clutton-Brock, Natural History Museum, London

Schwartz’s book is for specialists who are familiar with the literature in the field and who can trace the often well-hidden arguments with the orthodox view in the footnotes. . . . This is a scholarly book for a well-informed reader."—Martina Blum, Technology and Culture

"Sure to interest a wide variety of readers, whether they are dog owners, or historians, or both."—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

"A fascinating, scholarly mishmash, with extraordinary drawings by Susan Hochgraf, about the way tribes, nations and peoples dealt with and portrayed man’s best friend up to and just after the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s, with their huge man-killing war dogs."—Timothy Foote, New York Times Book Review

"[This book] presents a wealth of information about the association between humans and dogs."—Lynn M. Snyder, Archaeology

"Schwartz has produced a book that is extremely useful and that deserves to be read widely."—Henry S. Sharp, American Anthropologist

“This book [is] an observation of early American history through an examination of the canine’s role in society. A History of Dogs has been carefully researched, and the author includes a very useful 24-page bibliography. Endnotes recap the main theme of each chapter, and useful and important data such as the group names of native Americans and their places of habitation, their words for dogs (the word 'dog' had many different meanings among different native groups), and archaeological data are included.”—Nobuo Shigehara, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Japan

"A marvelously informative history—everything anyone could possibly want to know about dogs in the Americas but would never have thought to ask. . . . A treasure trove of information about dogs and their owners…copiously illustrated with drawings, photographs, and reproductions of paintings. . . . A great book, essential reading for anyone who cares about dogs."—David Nicholson, Washington Post Book World

“A meticulously documented study of the relationship between aboriginal peoples and dogs in the Americas from prehistory through European contact. . . . This comprehensive mosaic of facts from sociology, biology, history, and legend is an academic yet readable book.”—Library Journal

“[Schwartz] has produced a well-written, thoroughly researched compendium of information about the introduction and evolutionary development of Canis familiaris, otherwise known simply as dogs. . . . Any reader interested in dogs will find this book both useful and fascinating.”—Robert L. Munkres, Journal of the West

"A fascinating history."—Kirkus Reviews
ISBN: 9780300075199
Publication Date: October 11, 1998
260 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
84 b/w + 8 color illus.