Dr. Losey and his dog, Guiness

Robert Losey

Associate Professor

Tory Building

Dr. Robert Losey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and a Research Associate of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

His primary research interests are in human-animal relationships, both in the present and in the far distant past. Dr. Losey’s specialization is zooarchaeology, which involves the study of animal remains from archaeological contexts. Most of Dr. Losey’s current fieldwork is conducted in Siberia (Eastern Russia), where he has worked for the past nine years. He has also worked extensively in the United States, particularly in Oregon and Washington, but also in California, Alaska, North Dakota, and Kansas.

Much of Dr. Losey’s present research time is dedicated to the study of humans’ relationships with dogs as evidenced in the archaeological record of Eastern Russia. For example, in his fieldwork in this region, Dr. Losey has shown that some hunting and gathering groups occasionally buried their dogs within human cemeteries, often in graves just as elaborate as those containing humans. Losey has argued that this relates to fact that some dogs clearly were intimately cared for by their human counterparts, but that this fact alone is an unsatisfactory explanation for why they were buried. While people’s emotional attachment to dogs was important, also critical was the fact that like many northern groups, these ancient groups considered some animals to have the potential to be spiritually on-par with humans. When animals such as dogs reached this status, they required mortuary treatments just like those given to most humans—in these ancient settings, this involved burial in formal burial places (cemeteries). This pattern of dog treatment seems to contrast with that seen in this region in later periods, when pastoral cultures were dominant. These groups tended not to bury dogs in their own cemeteries except as acts of sacrifice, with the dogs being buried near human bodies along with parts and pieces of other domesticated animals. Dr. Losey also conducts a series of technical analyses on all of these ancient dog remains, ranging from stable isotope analyses to assess the dogs’ diets, to osteological analyses that help to understand how the dogs were used by people—to carry burdens or pull sleds, for example.  See Dr. Losey's article in the Journal of Anthropological Archaelogy.

Another of Dr. Losey’s recent projects in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia involves ethnographic interviews and filming of seal hunters and their families. This work seeks to better understand how seal hunting is interwoven into all aspects of life, ranging from the use of seals in local cuisines to how the sealing process takes places with a landscape rich with meaning and spirits.

Dr. Losey is an active member of two major international research projects, the Baikal-Hokkaido Archaeology Project, based at UAlberta, and the Arctic Domestication project, centered at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He also works on a number of smaller-scale projects funded by various agencies. Dr. Losey was the 2012 recipient of the University of Alberta Martha Cook Piper Research Prize.