Archaeology Dogs Are Helping Scientists Sniff Out the Past

Archaeology Dogs Are Helping Scientists Sniff Out the Past

There’s a reason dogs are referred to as human’s best friend. They are undeniably loyal, supreme cuddle buddies, and fearless protectors (especially the small ones). 

Now, it seems that canines may be the perfect companions for archaeologists as well. 

Researchers across the world are building upon dogs’ well-established ability to uncover human and animal remains. 

Their question is this; can dogs sniff out remains that are hundreds, or even thousands of years old? 

A dog’s nose is still somewhat of a mystery to humans. We know their sense of smell is between 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than our own. 

We also know that they are really good at detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs); which includes molecules related to human decomposition.

Dogs’ lower limit of detectability for VOCs is one part per trillion.

That means they can sniff out a single molecule of scent when a trillion others are present 

This is how dogs have uncovered melanoma cancer in humans and detected pregnancy in cows, all with a sniff of their snoots. 

Now, archaeologists around the world are learning just how powerful those snoots are. 

In 2018, a group of dogs helped Croatian archaeologist Vedrana Glavaš uncover remains at a dig site over 2,800 years old. 

Swedish archaeologist Sophie Vallulv has been training her German Shepherd, Fabel, to discover human and animal remains since 2013. 

Her research shows that Fabel could tell the difference between human and animal remains with more than 94.2 percent accuracy. 

She says Fabel’s best work was locating a 1,600-year-old human skeleton buried over 5-feet-deep.

Meanwhile, another project in the US aims to test the limits of archaeological dog detection. 

Caroll college professor Lauri Travis and student Hannah Decker have teamed up with Australian shepherd Dax. 

Over the course of several months, Dax was trained to sniff out animal remains as old as 5,000 years

Between the use of new technology, and help from human’s best friend, the archaeological community is set up for some groundbreaking discoveries in the coming years.