This Labrador Hunts Bones for a Living
November 12, 2012
By Dr. Becker
Migaloo is a three year-old female black Labrador Retriever mix who is the world’s first trained archaeology dog. The dog and her human partner and trainer are helping to locate sacred Aboriginal burial sites across Australia.
Eventually, Migaloo will work with other archaeology dogs at ancient civilization sites in Europe, Asia, Egypt and the Americas.
“This dog has a real gift.”
Migaloo was trained by Gary Jackson, owner of Multinational K9 in Queensland. Jackson has trained cadaver, koala, quoll (a small, carnivorous marsupial native to mainland Australia), bomb and drug sniffer dogs.
He trained Migaloo in about six months using 250 year-old skeletal remains from an Aboriginal burial site. According to Jackson, Migaloo has an amazing nose, a strong drive, and is “… hitting bone fragment with 100 percent certainty every time.”
Until recently, the oldest human bone ever uncovered was 175 years old. It was found by a cadaver dog named Candy 25 years ago on an excavation site from the Battle of Snake Hill in 1812. However, Migaloo bested that record by 425 years recently when she was tested at a 600 year-old Aboriginal burial ground in Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.
Her find of a 600 year-old human bone buried 6½ feet underground sets a new world record.
"This is a big deal. We now know a dog can detect 600-year-old bones up to 2m underground," according to Jackson.
Brad Griggs of the National Dog Trainers Federation in Melbourne calls it a huge breakthrough. "What on earth is that dog picking up on? What is left to sniff?" asked Griggs. "This dog has a real gift. She is quite remarkable."
“Nobody thought it could be done.”
Dogs have a remarkable sense of smell many thousands of times sharper than a human’s. They can find contraband in prison, lost children, bombs, drugs, and dead bodies. They are able to pick up the faintest of scents beneath a variety of surfaces, including several feet of snow. They can also detect certain kinds of human cancer and diabetes.
Archaeology dogs specialize in locating ancient human bones. Keryn Walshe, an archaeology researcher with the South Australian Museum, observed Migaloo’s Yorke Peninsula search and was astonished when the dog found the first of four burial sites in under a minute.
"We gave absolutely no cues,” said Walshe. “The dog sniffed around, went and stood over it, she was spot on.”
“We've never heard of fossil dogs, nobody ever thought there would be any scent left on these old bones, nobody thought it could be done," added Walshe.
When Migaloo makes a find, her reward is a game of fetch with a tennis ball.
Watch Migaloo in action here: