By Dan Collyns BBC News, Lima, Sep 23, 2006
The animals are in a remarkable state of preservation
The discovery was made during the excavation of two of the ancient Chiribaya people who lived in southern Peru between AD 900 and AD 1350.
Experts say the dogs' treatment in death indicated the belief that the animals had an afterlife.
Such a status for pets has only previously been seen in ancient Egypt.
Hundreds of years before the European conquest of South America, the Chiribaya civilisation valued its dogs so highly that when one died, it was buried alongside family members.
The dogs, which have been called Chiribaya shepherds for their llama-herding abilities, were not sacrificed as in other ancient cultures, but buried with blankets and food in human cemeteries.
Biological archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 40 dogs which were naturally mummified in the desert sand of Peru's southern Ilo Valley. Now they have teamed up with Peru's Kennel Club to try to establish if the dogs represent a new distinct breed indigenous to South America.
The country is full of breeds which arrived in the last few centuries, but they believe some dogs living today in southern Peru share the characteristics of their ancestors.
The Chiribaya dog looked rather like a small golden retriever with a medium-sized snout, beige colouring, and long hair.
The only other indigenous Peruvian canine is the hairless dog, which evolved over more than 2,000 years ago from Asian ancestors brought across the Bering Straits.
It was recognised as a distinct breed just 20 years ago.