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XI'AN - Archeologists in the northwestern Shaanxi province confirmed Thursday, after weeks of lab work, that the bones they found in a bronze cooking vessel from a 2,400-year-old tomb belonged to a male dog under a year old.
Altogether 37 bones were found in the cooking vessel, which was unearthed in November 2010 from a tomb near the Xianyang International Airport in the suburbs of Xi'an, said Liu Daiyun, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Archeological Institute.
"When we opened the 20-cm tall cooking vessel, we were shocked to find bones and soup inside," said Liu.
Cooking vessels were a typical offering Chinese once presented to their deceased ancestors, said Liu.
The custom became prevalent around the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC), the time Liu and his colleagues believed this dog stew was offered.
Hu Songmei, a researcher who did most of the lab work to identify the bones, said they found the bones were "strikingly similar" to four complete sets of canine skeletons preserved at the institute's lab.
The newly found bones, however, were smaller, indicating the dog was just a pup, said Hu.
Hu said further lab work was needed to tell the exact species of the canine. "Dogs were domesticated by humans at least 10,000 years ago, but the early dog species that evolved from wild wolves could be very different from today's pet dogs."
Besides the dog bones, experts also found a wine-like liquid in another airtight kitchen ware from the same tomb. "Whoever the tomb owner was, he must have loved liquor and meat, so his sons wished he could still enjoy the feast in his grave."