We find ourselves in a dark cave. In the blackness, we can’t tell how big or small the space is. There is a burst of light as Migaloo — a Labrador mix — ignites a torch and creeps forward, her eyes intent on the prize before her, her wet nose wiggling as she takes in the scents of the cave: rats, mold, water in the distance, and snakes — yuck! She hates snakes. With her keen sense of smell, Migaloo needs no light to know that in front of her on a raised dais is a small golden statue, a key to an archeological mystery hundreds of years old. She approaches the dais but senses something amiss — a booby trap!
She readies a bag of sand to swap with the statue to prevent the activation of the trap. Breathing deeply and panting heavily (because she’s a dog, and she can’t sweat), she hesitates before snatching the statue and replacing it with the bag. But she’s no cat! There is a rumbling from deep within the cave, as if a giant’s belly has come to life with a terrible hunger. Out of the darkness emerges a boulder, propelled by gravity, reeling toward Migaloo, destined to crush the canine under its weight …
Okay, so Migaloo’s work isn’t that cinematic, but she is the world’s first bioarcheology detection dog. Her human, Gary Jackson, is an adept dog trainer who has taught canines from basic obedience to highly specialized detection services. After six months of training, Gary has trained Migaloo how to sniff out and indicate human remains more than a century old. It’s different from cadaver dog work, in that Migaloo is trained to sniff for human bones and not decomposing flesh.
Using 250-year-old loaned Aboriginal bones (treated with the utmost care and reverence, of course), Migaloo successfully identified the human remains even when surrounded by animal bones. But her big break came when she found four burial spots more than 600 years old in Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. The site had never been excavated and had only been hinted at by bone fragments found by a digger.
Watch Migaloo in action below (skip ahead to 03:25).
There have been no tools available to detect archeological human remains — until now. Though Migaloo’s work is still in its infancy, it might turn out to be groundbreaking.
Story and photos via The History Blog