A HISTORY OF DOGS IN THE EARLY AMERICAS by Marion Schwartz

A HISTORY OF DOGS IN THE EARLY AMERICAS

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A clunkily written but fairly fascinating history of dogs in the pre-Columbian Americas, from Schwartz, a research assistant in anthropology at Yale. Working from ethnohistorical accounts, chronicles, codices, hieroglyphics, linguistic sources, and artwork, Schwartz takes the measure of what dogs meant to the early Americans. She goes back into the mists, detailing morphological, ecological, and genetic traits that, combined with the cultural and biological components of domestication, make a dog a dog and not a wolf gone soft. Schwartz covers familiar ground as she describes what is thought to be the first human association with dogs (as camp guards, scavengers, and pack animals); the dawning awareness among humans that a dog's superior sight, hearing, and smell could be used to advantage in stalking game (from the Iglulik of the far north, who used them to hunt musk oxen, to the Patagonians way south, who employed them in hunting guanacos); and the growing importance of dogs in the myths of such diverse groups as the Cheyenne and Penobscot, the Inca, Aztec, and Mayan cultures. The book starts to get really interesting when Schwartz delves into cultures that ate dogs (as either a spiritual or gastronomic delicacy), and into the fancy rituals fashioned to rationalize the consumption of a creature that humans found a little more kindred than, say, a chicken. And her foray into the symbolic and metaphorical complexities of pre-Columbian art about dogs--the dog as archetype, as omen and totem, as guide to the afterlife--is much the best part of the book, as Schwartz relaxes, hits a fanciful speculative stride, and shows off her research talents to their best advantage. For the Indians, no less than for modern Americans, having a dog around required evaluating the benefits ``of keeping dogs versus the cost of maintaining them.'' The benefits began winning out, Schwartz demonstrates, a long time ago. (84 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-300-06964-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997




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