Never Underestimate the Power of a Canine Nose

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(Vedrana Glavaš /Department of Archaeology,Univerity of Zadar)

Canine Archaeologists Sniff Out 3,000-Year-Old Graves in Croatia

by Jason Daley/Smithsonian.com

Dogs have helped law enforcement and search-and-rescue crews discover human remains for decades. But recently, a new group has enlisted the help of canines and their olfactory superpowers: archaeologists.

In a recent paper in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory, Vedrana Glavaš, an archaeologist at the University of Zadar in Croatia, and Andrea Pintar, a cadaver dog handler, describe how dogs trained to find human remains helped them track down gravesites dating to around 700 B.C.

For The GuardianJoshua Rapp Learn reports that the team tested the dogs at a hilltop fort called Drvišica along Croatia’s Adriatic coast. Previously, Glavaš had identified tombs in a necropolis near the fort and wanted to find more. However, the irregular, rocky terrain made it difficult to just randomly excavate suspected burial sites. So, in 2015, she decided to contact Pintar, who trains cadaver dogs typically used in criminal cases.

Cadaver dogs are champions at finding remains that are just hours and even several decades old. But the team wasn’t sure if sensitive canine noses could detect the scent of death—actually, the more than 400 scents of death; decomposition releases hundreds of complex compounds—after 2,700 years in the ground.

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