As strange and disturbing as it may seem, throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of dog-headed people living in distant lands. You have probably seen images of Cynocephalus before. Cyno means dog and cephalus means of the head.
For example you have probably seen images of the Egyptian God Anubis "The God of Death and Embalming." Anubis has been found in Egyptian tombs, and has the body of a man and the head of a jackal, this is clearly a Cynocephalus.
It makes for interesting folklore, but what if I told you that historically, the detailed written accounts by explorers, conquerors and missionaries of these cynocephali in India, Asia, Africa and Europe are actually rather consistant. Infact these strange creatures were described in writings as recent as the last few hundred years. There are clear depictions of cynocephali in the writings of St. Augustine, Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and even Christopher Columbus.
While no skeletal remains of such creatures have yet been made public, there is enough consistent detail describing them to raise a few questions. Here are some of the stories throughout history of the cynocephali or the dog headed man, as described by those who witnessed and wrote about them.
The earliest known reference to dog headed humans were found in Libya, carved into the cliffs and boulders on a plateau 4000 years ago. Among the rock carvings of giraffes and elephants are two dog-headed men dragging the body of a rhinoceros. Other images in that area include a dog-headed human carryings a club, with a dog-headed baby at his feet. In another, one carries on its shoulders , the now extinct ox-like animal, the Auroch.
The first known written account of these creatures were by the Greek physician Ctesias, in the 5th century BC. Around this time this physician returned to Greece from India with very detailed passages of his travels and of the cynocephali along with his accounts of Pygmies and strange Tigers. In short, he described a civilization of roughly 120,000 dog-headed, dark skinned men and women. He called them "swarthy, with long hairy tails living in lofty and inaccessible mountains" in India. He said "Their teeth were larger than those of dogs, their nails were long." Though he heard no language, he claimed they "barked like dogs and were thus understood by each other." Ctesius said cynocephali slept on leaves or grass in mountain caves and they could live up to 200 years.
He also noted that given their strength and isolation they could not be defeated in war, and that they were very swift, effective hunters, who would pursue and easily overtake their prey, cooking it by roasting it in the sun before eating the flesh. Ctesuis also said they were shepherds, raising sheep, goats and asses, procuring milk and whey from their herds. The richest of the dog heads owned more sheep and wore linen, while the rest wore tanned furless animal skin. They also ate the sweet fruit "Siptakhora" which they collected onto rafts along with purple flowers for dye. They sent this annually to the king of India in exchange for bread, flour, cotton and weapons like swords bows and arrows. One thing Ctesius noted was that they are "extremely just like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate." He said they understood the Indian language but were unable to converse with them, only barking or making signs with their hands and fingers to reply. Incase that wasnt enough detail, Ctesius added that the women bathed monthly and the men with the excepton of their hands, not at all.
In the same century as Ctesius, there were more accounts of the cynocephali by Greek writers and historians. One of them was Herodotus, traveled to the eastern region of Libya
and described the Nomads lived. He said it was exceedingly mountainous and wooded, and full of wild beasts, naming many of these and among them cynocephali. The Roman author Claudius Aelian wrote detailed accounts of the animals in the region. When he described the cynocephalus, he said he was an upright, would injure no man and that they had no speech. However they would howl and of course they understood the Indian language. He claimed that wild animals were their food and that they could catch them with ease, exposing them to the sun's heat to cook them after shredding them into pieces. He noted that they kept goats an sheep and dank the milk of the animals they hearded. He also noted that their speech was "inarticulate, unintelligible and not that of man." Claudius Aelian also noted that their whole body was covered in hair, and that the regions where they lived were so inaccessible, it was very hard to capture them. He thought it was interesting that a cynocephalus would strip the shell off a nut and clean it, intelligently before eating it. He also found it interesting that a cynocephalus would drink wine and perferred well seasoned food. Like Ctesius the writings were very detailed and consistent.
A few decades later Alexander the Great invaded India, and he too claimed in letters to his famous philosopher teacher Aristotle that he had seen a cynocephali.
He even claimed to have caught some, and described them as "fierce, vicious, barking, snarling beasts." In the letter that he sent to Aristotle he included a manuscript which we now know as the famous poem, "Beowulf."
For about 1,500 years following the original accounts of the cynocephali, many explorers, conquerors and even Christian missionaries claimed to have seen and interacted with the dog-headed people. There are accounts that even King Arthur joined the witnesses when he and his army allegedly defeated a band of dog-headed soldiers in the mountains surrounding Edinburgh, Scotland.
In Orthodox Christian history both St. Christopher and St. Andrew are regularly depicted in ancient artwork with dog-heads. It was said that St. Christopher repented and was transformed to become entirely human. Of course this is all said to be symbolic, but it leaves you wondering. St. Augustine who lived in 430, was one of the most influential early Christian fathers. He spoke of the existence of the Cynocephali and other strange races, claiming that he personally preached the Gospel to them. Through his accounts they became recognized as "morally dumb and sometimes even demonic" but always redeemable.
One Italian traveler in the 13th century and the first European to document the Mongols, told of an encounter between armies of Khan and a dog-headed people near Lake Baikal, in what is now Russia. He said the "monsters had men's heads, but dogs faces." He said they spoke, as it were, in words that were more like the barking of a dog.
One lesser known account of Cynocephali in Orthodox Christianity was that of the Christian theologian Ratramnus. One of his monks asked him, what do I do when I encounter the Dog-heads? Can I save their souls? Do I preach to them or do I look at them as animals. The church clearly claimed they were beasts. Ratramnus was concerned and he consulted his elder in "A Letter on the Dog -headed Creatures" he tries to persuade his superior that the dog-heads were in fact "sons of Adam" and that they should be allowed to convert to Christianity, and not treated as animals.
In another account, The Dominican friar, Vincent of Beauvais, noted that the Cynocephali was, "an animal with the head of the dog" but in all other means, would behave like a man and thus, when peaceful, he would be "tender like a man, but when furious, would become cruel and could retaliate on humankind."
Later in the 13th century the famous explorer Marco Polo describes cynocephali as barbaric cannibals. In his travels to the island of Angamanian, off the coast of Burma in the Indian Ocean, he said, the people were without a king, he considered them "no better than the wild beasts." He said the men "have heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes, likewise" He described them as looking like "mastiff dogs." He said that "though they had many spices", they were "a cruel generation" and they would eat anybody they caught, if not of their own race.
While the most ancient written accounts of Cynocephali occurred in India and Persia, sightings moved west over time and as they did the stories became more violent, and the creatures more barbaric. In the 15th century Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti to an unwelcoming and hostile situation. Where he claimed to see "men with one eye and others with dog noses who were cannibals, and that when they captured an enemy they beheaded him, drank his blood and cut off his private parts."
It comes as no suprise that Dog-men have also been reported in the United States. The most famous sighting began in 1887, when a "Man Wolf" was seen walking upright in Michigan. He was described as 7 feet tall and extremely muscular and worst of all his howl sounded like a human scream. Sightings continued for decades in ten-year cycles.
Another case in the US was the Beast of Bray in Wisconsin, from 1930 to the mid 1990's, in which the beast was described more like a werewolf than a dog. Given these accounts its safe to say "Dog-heads" are very much alive in modern culture.
Were these ancient writings distorted descriptions or is there another explaination?
Beginning with the ancient carvings in Libya, you cant help but notice the consistency in the descriptions of these historical and more gentle creatures. There are also alot of similarities of the cynocephali and Neanderthal man and the similarities of certain monkeys with dog like snouts.
We also know that Cynocephali tradtionally represented danger of either an unknown land or people, and of a culture that lives on the edge of the map, and the edge of civilization, and as we well know history still reveals many mysteries we've only begun to unravel.
John Steinbeck observed, "I've seen a look in dogs eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I'm convinced that dogs think humans are nuts."
Maybe our canine friends know more about us, and more about our relationship with them, then we do.