At the request of Aard regular and archaeologist Mathias Blobel in Freiburg, Germany, here’s a summary of a recent paper in Swedish.
In Fornvännen 2007:3, husband & wife historians of archaeology Drs Åsa Gillberg and Ola W. Jensen note that there are currently ongoing attempts to train dogs to sniff out archaeology, much like they have proved capable of finding illegal drugs, recently buried murder victims, even cancerous tumours. Results so far are inconclusive. The point of Gillberg & Jensen’s note is instead to draw attention to an obscure Swedish antiquarian, Johan Lindman, who made the same suggestion already in 1761 in a Gothenburg newspaper.
“…might not the sense of smell guide people or animals in the search for [buried] money?” Everyone knows that copper coins and other metal objects smell, and so no man should
“… doubt that they could smell coins and metals, and that the vapours touch their noses when they run across buried money. It would be pedantry to want to prove such an evident truth. All I want to add pertains to the vapours of the metals, and the way to train the dogs. The vapours will be strongest when the metals become softened, as it were, by heat or moisture. This will be the time for treasure hunting. Surfaces give off vapours, but a hoard of buried coins has many surfaces, and so a softened lump of buried coin will smell stronger than the same mass of uncoined metal. Likewise, the smell of softened metal that has been buried at the same spot for a long time will be much stronger than that of natural pieces of metal that have never been touched. Thus will hidden treasure doubtlessly impregnate the upper layers of earth with rising particles, damaging to human health, and piercing to the nose of a dog.”
Lindman had recently heard of a Gothenburg dog that had found a brass ring for his owner, but he had not performed any experiments of his own. Nevertheless, he made several suggestions on how to train treasure-hunting dogs.
He suggests an early start. The puppy’s owner should let it play only with money, placing coins around the house and letting the dog search for them. The dog should be trained to mark finds by barking, but to keep to precious metals and ignore rock, wood and fabric. Lindman feels that the dog would need to concentrate on sniffing, and so should be made to wear a blindfold or a cap to avoid distractions.
Whether anyone ever took up Johan Lindman’s suggestions and trained themselves a dog detector is not known.
Gillberg, Å. & Jensen, O.W. 2007. Arkeohunden förr och nu. Fornvännen 2007:3. KVHAA. Stockholm.
[More blog entries about archaeology, history, sweden, dogs; arkeologi, hundar, historia, Göteborg.]