Some 2,000 years ago, a small child in Roman Gaul—now France—died and was buried alongside what archaeologists say was probably a pet puppy.
As Kim Willsher reports for the Guardian, researchers from the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP) found an iron ring attached to a bent metal rod—likely a toy—between the legs of the dog, which was placed at the child’s feet outside of the coffin. The canine sported a collar with a bell and bronze decorations.
The child, who died when they were about 1 year old, was buried with an array of objects, including terracotta vases, half a pig and two headless chickens, as well as glass pots believed to have contained oils and medicines. The researchers are testing the receptacles to discover exactly what they held.
Given the wealth of grave goods found at the site, the team suggests that the child belonged to an elite family.
“The items that accompany this deceased are absolutely exceptional, both in terms of quantity and quality,” says an INRAP statement, per a translation by the Guardian. “Such a profusion of crockery and butchered items, as well as the personal effects that followed the child to [their] grave, underline the privileged rank to which [their] family belonged. A dog’s association with a young child is well documented in a funeral context, but here it is the collar and bell that are unusual.”
Dated to sometime during the first three decades A.D., more than 50 years after Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, the burial is the “oldest and most important” child’s grave unearthed in France to date, according to the Guardian. At the time of the infant’s death, Gaul was becoming increasingly assimilated into the Greco-Roman world.
Laurence Lautier, head of the research team, tells Agence France-Presse that the burial is “unusual because of the profusion of vases and offerings. In this type of tomb we often find one or two pots placed at the foot. Here there are around 20 as well as many food offerings.”
Lautier adds that the vessels probably contained “the child’s part of the food and drink from the funeral banquet.”
Also found in the grave was an older child’s baby tooth, which was placed on a fragment of shell. The researchers say that the tooth may have been left by a sibling of the deceased. Though the bodies of adults were normally cremated during this period, small children were often buried, reports Clyde Hughes for UPI.
The research team conducted the dig ahead of a development project at the Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Airport in central France. Since November, the group has excavated a 7.4-acre area of the site.
In addition to the Roman-era grave, the archaeologists have found artifacts spanning the Iron Age through the Middle Ages. Highlight include pits and structures dated to as early as 800 B.C., as well as medieval-era buildings containing equine and bovine remains that indicate they may have housed a butchery operation. The entire site is covered by a network of ditches, suggesting that locals made multiple efforts to drain the area’s marshland over the millennia.