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Just Another Day for the Canine Indiana Jones

Just Another Day for the Canine Indiana Jones

Many people with a furry friend have noticed that dogs exhibit a keen interest in the odors of the world, something scent dogs are actually specially bred and trained for. These amazing working dogs have highly refined noses and they’re put to work in settings like airports (for contraband interdiction), disaster sites (for finding victims and survivors), and war zones (for mine sweeping). It requires years of training and a lot of patience, as well as a willing canine. Trainer Gary Jackson decided to put the power of a dog’s sense of smell to the limits to see if it was possible to train a dog to seek out ancient human remains. What he ended up with was the world’s first archaeology dog!

Dogs are already used in the detection of human remains, which put out a very distinct odor signature. Cadaver dogs, as they’re known, can find not just whole human bodies but also body parts, and can detect the site where a human body was stored even if it’s been moved. They’re incredibly valuable for law enforcement and criminal investigation, as well as the tragic task of recovering dead bodies from the sites of disasters. Training them, as you might imagine, can get a little eccentric at times; not everyone drives around with coolers full of (donated!) human remains, after all.

Jackson wanted to know if it was possible for dogs to find ancient human remains, which would be a much tougher task. With all the soft tissue long gone, the classic scent signature might be as well, and the bones are significantly dry. Yet, Migaloo the rescued black lab was willing to give it a go (with a little motivation from her favorite ball), and she’s turned out to be an archaeology star, successfully finding 600-year-old graves. She passed a test in an ancient burial site, used with special permission from Aboriginal elders, with flying colors. Her test case proves that dogs definitely have applications in archaeology, and could become extremely useful team members.

In case you’re wondering, no, Migaloo isn’t allowed to dig up her finds. That delicate task is left to trained archaeologists who can safely extract bones along with objects of interest in their substrate, carefully filtering through dirt and other materials to remove fragments of beads, material, and other man-made materials while preserving the integrity of the bone as much as possible.

So the next time you see a dog sniffing around at an archaeological dig, don’t be so quick to assume it’s someone’s pet along for the work day…

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Photo credit: pmarkham

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9:16AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

thank you

9:09AM PST on Feb 9, 2013

Migaloo is awesome. Thank you for sharing this amazing dogs story.

9:34AM PST on Jan 17, 2013

Wowow... Good idea. Tks.

1:39PM PST on Jan 14, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

4:35PM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Very cool. The abilites of our canine friends never ceases to amaze me.

10:21AM PST on Jan 2, 2013


3:46PM PST on Jan 1, 2013

Thank you for your kind comments, As Migaloo's owner and trainer I am aware of other cadaver dogs searching for historic sites. Migaloo was trained specifically for archaeology sites on old bone, Migaloo is not a cadaver dog. More info on migaloo at we have another big anouncement on Migaloo this week as she rewrites history again.

Gary Jackson

2:29AM PST on Dec 31, 2012


8:08PM PST on Dec 30, 2012

Migaloo, you are great! *_*

7:35PM PST on Dec 30, 2012

Amazing. I saw a crime show(Forensic Files-I initially wanted to work in a crime lab as a DNA Analyst)They brought a dog to a crime scene to look for a girls body. The dog came back to the gathered crowd that was watching and went right up to a man and signaled. The police thought the dog had initially failed and took him back to the field. Again the dog forcefully went back to the same man and signaled. Long story short. This man was the murderer and convicted largely because the dog brought him under investigation. It is said the perpetrator always shows a keen interest in the crime he commited and returns to the scene.

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