Historic Environment Scotland commissioned a life-like reconstruction of a neolithic dog’s head, based on the skull discovered in the Cuween Hill chambered cairn in Orkney.
The canine skull was CT-scanned in the diagnostic imaging service of Edinburgh University’s Royal School of Veterinary Studies, allowing HES’ digital documentation team to make a 3D print.
This was used by forensic artist Amy Thornton to create a realistic model of the dog’s head, building up muscle, skin and hair in the same way she would approach a model of a human head.
A total of 24 skulls were discovered when the site was excavated in 1901, and radio carbon dating shows the burial chamber had already been in existence for 500 years when they were interred there.
This implies ritual burial, and may tell us how important these animals were to the people who shared their lives in prehistoric times.
Steve Farrar, Interpretation Manager at HES, said: “Just as they’re treasured pets today, dogs clearly had an important place in Neolithic Orkney, as they were kept and trained as pets and guards and were perhaps used by farmers to help tend sheep.
“But the remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago.
Experts advised that the dog’s fur coat would resemble that of a European grey wolf, while from the remains it appears the animal was about the size of a large collie.
The original skull used to create the model is held at National Museums Scotland.