Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Thirty-one years ago this month,
Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the world to a globe-trotting archaeologist with a sixth sense for scavenging artifacts — and an intense fear of
Although they don’t wear fedoras or carry whips, Historical Human Remains Detection (HHRD) dogs do share one thing in common with the intrepid Indiana Jones: an uncanny ability to determine where exactly those bones are buried at centuries-old sites.
Much like Human Remains Detection (HRD) and cadaver dogs, HHRD canines use their noses to get the job done. But instead of working with members of law enforcement, HHRD canines tag alongside archaeologists to sniff out historical and prehistoric graves.
A typical day in the life of an HHRD dog varies depending on the location of the excavation site and the weather. Ideal conditions for an HHRD search: temperatures between 40 F and 75 F, high humidity, a moist ground and a light breeze.
In warm regions, like the western United States, where a number of HHRD dogs live and work, this means starting the day at 5:30 a.m., before the sun overheats the soil.
Bev Peabody, an HHRD dog handler and board member of the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF), recalls working a site in the Sacramento Valley once when a ground thermometer read 110 F. “We doused the area with water and had to give the dogs lots of breaks,” she says.
By the way, there’s one more Indiana Jones connection — HHRD pups aren’t very fond of critters that slither.
“During certain times of the year, we have to worry about rattlesnakes,” Peabody says. “They come out in the summer, when the sun comes up, and lay on the rocks. You freeze when you hear that rattle. That’s our worst thing out here.”
And the work can be tedious, which is why Peabody says that the dogs usually work in teams of at least two. “Even if it’s a smaller area of two or three acres,” she says, “in order to cover it thoroughly, we have one dog sniff east to west and one north to south.”
HHRD is a relatively new field. As more and more cases arose in which people needed to investigate centuries-old graves, some search-and-rescue handlers decided to start training their canines to specifically detect human bones and teeth.
The Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF), which certifies HHRD dogs, has determined that these dogs must specialize in detecting ancient buried skeletal remains — and not cross-train to detect live human scents.
Not only do HHRD dogs work some difficult terrain, but they also have to do so carefully to avoid disturbing possible graves.
To date, much of their work has focused on detecting old cemeteries and Native American burial grounds in western and midwestern parts of the U.S. Occasionally, the dogs even get to scent famous sites, like when they teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to search a locale linked to the Donner Party.
In 2007, an HHRD dog and ICF handlers traveled to the Czech Republic to work two burial sites marked off by archaeologists. At one of the sites, an HHRD dog named Nessie surprised archaeologists and found a new burial locale. A month later, excavations proved Nessie was right.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
An Indiana shelter with a soft spot for
seniors is making life better for a Golden
Retriever with terminal cancer.
From bringing in your puppy or kitten to
telling your friends about him or her, there
are plenty of ways to make a…
Minimize the risk of a bad trick-or-treat
interaction by brushing up on your dog’s
manners before October 31.
Dr. Jenna Ashton shares how to
determine your pet's water intake and tips
for encouraging him to drink more.
The Schapendoes (aka Dutch Sheepdog)
is known for his incredible jumping skills
and cheerful personality.
Parasites are no fun for dogs. Learn how
to protect your canine from heartworms,
hookworms, whipworms and more.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.