December 14, 2013 Marshall Joseph Becker, PhD; Professor of Anthropology: West Chester University: "The White Dog Sacrifice: A Divine Messenger from Among the Seneca and Onondaga after 1799."

 The strangulation and cremation of a pair of sacrificial dogs, later only one, as part of the Iroquoian Midwinter Feast had come to be seen by many anthropologists as an ancient, pan-Iroquoian ritual incorporated within these winter festivities. Becker and Lainey, in their studies of wampum, have long recognized that this specific commodity had important political and ornamental value but no clear ritual function. With increasingly vocal assertions by modern Native-descent populations alleging that wampum had once held ritual importance, we sought to examine a purely ritual event, The White Dog Sacrifice, or WDS, with which wampum was known to be used. In reviewing every published account of the WDS we found that 1. the WDS did not exist before 1799, but entered the Midwinter Feast of only some Seneca and Onondaga only with the teachings of Handsome Lake at the end of the eighteenth century. 2. Some possible connection with feasting on dogs, long known as a delicacy, is possible, but the body of the WDS is cremated, not consumed. 3. Earlier dog sacrifice is documented as early as the 1770s, but those offerings were not associated with the Midwinter Feast and were not cremated. 4. The WDS is associated with offerings made in atonement for sins, a Christian introduced concept, with the offerings also being burned with the dogs. 5. By the 1890s the baskets traditionally used to collect offerings at the Midwinter Feast came to act as substitutes for the dogs themselves 6. Suggestions that dogs continued to be sacrificed into the 1930s have become part of an oral tradition for which no evidence can be found. 7. Wampum was occasionally used as part of the ornamentation placed on the strangled dogs used in the WDS, but was purely decorative in function. Once dogs ceased to be part of the Midwinter rituals, wampum was no longer any part of the ritual.
            Prof. Marshall Joseph Becker has studied the native peoples of the Delaware River and Delaware Bay regions for more than 40 years. He was trained at The University of Pennsylvania in all four fields of anthropology and now applies multiple anthropological approaches to gather information about the Lenape, or “Delaware Indians”, and their neighbors. His research relating to the use of wampum in the Northeast has led to greater interest in the Five Nations Iroquois. Dr. Becker has published more than 200 articles on Native American subjects in scholarly as well as popular journals. He also has published a number of book chapters and monographs on the peoples of the lowland Maya region. His studies of skeletal populations from archaeological sites in Italy, the Czech Republic and elsewhere in the European Union and Turkey have appeared in dozens of articles. Dr. Becker’s research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The American Philosophical Society, the National Geographic Society and the Social Science Research Council. His forthcoming book on The White Dog Sacrifice, with Jonathan Lainey, will be published by The American Philosophical Society.

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