Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Quaternary and Climate Studies


Bonnie Newsom

Second Committee Member

Daniel Sandweiss

Third Committee Member

Eric Guiry


Archaeological study of Indigenous pasts has been characterized by a focus on objects over people. This study attempts to humanize the past by illuminating human agency in the human-dog relationship through a case study of dog health and diet during the Late Ceramic period (ca. 950 – 450 BP) in the Maine-Maritime Peninsula region. To circumvent the cycle of western knowledge building and marginalization of Indigenous communities, past Wabanaki people and their relationships with dogs are positioned at the center of research questions presented here. Few studies in the Northeast have analyzed dog remains from the Ceramic period (ca. 3050 – 450 BP) and none from the Late Ceramic period for subsistence trends. This thesis addresses that gap and evaluates dog diet and human and canine relationships through an analysis of canine faunal collections at the Holmes Point West site (ME 62-8) in Machias Bay, Maine. Special emphasis is placed on legacy canine collections representing the remains of two dog burials excavated in 1973. A minimum of four canine individuals are the subject of analyses undertaken here. Individuals are contextualized through investigation of available health and pathology information, existing site records, relevant historical and ethnographic accounts, regional ceramic chronologies, and new and established radiocarbon dates. These traditional lines of evidence are complemented by a study of bone collagen stable isotopic values of δ13C and δ15N derived from canine individuals for information about past diet. Dietary evidence from dogs is used as an analogy for human diet, following the Canine Surrogacy Approach (CSA), which is based on established understandings of social and food-sharing practices at the heart of the human-dog relationship. This method has been used by researchers to infer human diet when human remains are unavailable or not preferable for study. Findings suggest that canine individuals at the Holmes Point West site may have fulfilled diverse roles, based on the varying ages of individuals present and wide-range of depositional contexts. Stable isotope analysis suggests that canines consumed an increasingly terrestrially-oriented diet ca. 600 BP, a change from the overwhelmingly marine-oriented diets of canines during the earlier Ceramic period. Overall, results suggest major subsistence changes for dogs and potentially Wabanaki people at the Holmes Point West site during the Late Ceramic period, a period of intermittent contact between Europeans and Indigenous people. This case study offers a new approach for understanding subsistence changes in the region and provides a framework to examine human agency through the remains of dogs. This research addresses several gaps in regional archaeological datasets. Dog remains from an understudied time period are examined, addressing calls by previous researchers in the region for more contextualized case studies to further our understanding of human and dog dietary relationships. This research also helps to address gaps that exist between the ethnographic and archaeological records for the Late Ceramic and Protohistoric periods. Lastly and most importantly, this case study underscores the importance of the human-dog relationship within a hunting, fishing, and gathering community in the Maine-Maritime Peninsula region.

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