A strange and terrible wonder – large dog skeleton unearthed in Leiston dig

The bones of a large dog have been excavated at Leiston Abbey archaeological site in the U.K. The media outlet connects it to tales of the Black Dog, the Hell Hound. That gives me a chance to tell one of the great pieces of supernatural animal folklore that is still being told today. Whether or not it has any connection to the new find is irrelevant. 🙂

Leiston: Are these the bones of devil dog, Black Shuck? – East Anglian Daily Times.

Since the middle-ages, legend has spread of a fearful beast once said to stalk the region’s coastline and countryside.

Despite tales of a fiery-eyed monster showing up in graveyards, forests and roadsides – and an account of claw marks surfacing on the door to Blythburgh Church – the giant dog’s existence has been reserved to the annals of folklore.

Until now, perhaps, as archeologists have revealed evidence of huge skeletal remains unearthed by a member of the public in the trenches at Leiston Abbey last year.

The most famous black dog legend is that of the Black Dog of Bungay. The story goes that during a terrible storm, a huge black dog burst into St Mary’s church in Bungay in the summer of 1577 slaying some praying parishioners. Earlier, it is said that the beast, in likeness of the devil himself, left scorch marks on the door of another church. What happened that day is investigated in this book by Waldron and Reeve (recommended).

However, back to reality… this is more likely not at all related to the talk of spectral hounds but a beloved pet that whose death was a solemn, meaningful affair.

While this story may seem like hype to promote the dig site, it does show us an important aspect of human culture – that we have long had a serious and sometimes complicated relationship with dogs.

dog skeleton found

The dog is said to be the size of a Great Dane.

  10 comments for “A strange and terrible wonder – large dog skeleton unearthed in Leiston dig

  1. BobM
    May 15, 2014 at 8:53 PM

    I think that might be the wrong word for a large dog that lived in the Middle Ages. More likely to be a guard dog or a hunting dog. Not that people didn’t get fond of them necessarily, but pet might be a bit of a misnomer. Actually, in those days even small dogs had their uses :-).

  2. Indrid Cole
    May 15, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    Did they check the grave for silver bullets or a wooden stake through the heart? It seems like The Hell Hound would have deserved some sort of above average grave marker.

  3. ApexDisorder
    May 16, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    Sensationalist garbage..Provide me with, taxonomy criteria and I’ll tell you the breed.
    I’m sure with cross correlation of regional specific dog breeds popular or available in this century there would be no mystery.
    [Ed., removed]

  4. Chris
    May 16, 2014 at 2:14 AM

    Have you ever been near a Great Dane? These big guys are very affectionate. First they like to lean on persons they like, and if given a chance will slyly put their head on your lap, and then eventually you will have the entire huge dog on your lap.

    Once upon a time between high school and college I stayed overnight at a house with a friends of the family as we traveled to my college destination. I was given a bit of floor in the basement to camp out on, and Red, the Great Dane, seemed obliged to snuggle next to me. He stretched as long as my five foot two frame. The mom of the house appreciated his size whenever door-to-door folks came by. They were fearful of his size not knowing he would want to actually love to lean against them!

  5. Daran
    May 16, 2014 at 4:11 AM

    There used to be a massive breed of dog in England but they had a habit of turning on their owners and killing them.
    From what I have read, much larger than the Great Dane, discontinued.

  6. May 16, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Reference please. Mastiffs are pretty old breed I thought.

  7. Ryan
    May 16, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    Great Danes were bred originally for boar and bear hunting. Large breeds from the British isles like Wolf Hounds and Mastiffs were likewise bred for hunting dangerous game, pit fighting, or even as war dogs. If the skeleton is as old as the article indicates its unlikely it was a companion dog, as that concept was pretty uncommon until fairly modern times. IIRC there’s info that aristocrats, royals, and the rich kept dogs purely as pets going back pretty far. But for the most part dog ownership in the deep past didn’t look much like it does today. More like keeping other livestock. Groups of dogs kept in outdoor kennels, and used/interacted with for specific purposes. I’m sure plenty of people were plenty friendly or attached to their dogs, but the modern concept of “pet” doesn’t really describe it well. Also bear in mind that the friendly demeanor in the Great Dane is a feature of the modern breed. It was selected for recently to make the animal a better companion dog. Something similar might have been selected for to make the animal easier to work with in the past, but whatever the progenitor of these large breeds were at the time would have likely been more aggressive due to the work they were doing. Likewise the circumstance of a dogs training and keeping have a large effect on its behavior. A dog treated as a member of the family, living in the house etc is going to behave very differently from a dog that lives full time in a barn. Or outdoors with many other dogs. Especially when the majority of its interactions with humans are built around training and active work.

  8. Ryan
    May 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    I have never heard anything like this. The largest ancient breeds from the British Isles I’m familiar with are the Wolf Hounds and the Mastiffs. Both of which still exist in one form or another and both of which were supposedly derived from earlier pre-Roman war and hunting dogs. And both of which can be larger than Great Danes depending on how you like to measure (height, weight, combination etc).

    Maybe this is some sort of myth associated with the Old English Bulldog? They were’t particularly big, but were supposedly bread down from Mastiff types for pit fighting (of bulls! among other things). So they were aggressive. They are also the origin point for most bull dog types still extant as well as the “pit bull” group of breeds. Its also an extinct breed so it fits your claim better than the larger types

  9. Phil
    May 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    This folklore is from Norfolk, UK. I was brought up in Norfolk and I can remember the tail of the Black Dog or known as “black chuck” that roamed around the country side and beaches of Norfolk. It was a story told to us by our headteacher during a school trip to scare us.

  10. May 16, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    I would like to remind folks that disarticulated skeletons tend to skew size towards “large.” We talked about this on MonsterTalk in the “Giants” episode – when the connective tissue decays the bones spread and make the specimen look larger. I just wonder if that’s in play here. Are we hearing measurements of the bones as they lie? Or as they measure after being cleaned and reassembled?

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