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dogs in ancient Egypt
Dogs are believed to have been the first animals to be domesticated by ancient humans. Most archaeologists believe that dogs were first domesticated about 14,000 years ago. This was before the development of agriculture and permanent human settlements. There are currently about 400 million dogs in the world and 400,000 wolves. [Source: Xiaoming Wang and Richard Tedford, Natural History magazine, July-August 2008; Angus Phillips, National Geographic, January 2002]

Humans and wolves or proto dogs came together perhaps because they traveled in groups of about the size, inhabited the same areas and hunted the same prey and were able to help each other: with their sensitive noses dogs were good at locating prey, with their tools and weapons and skills early humans were good at killing large animals. It seems likely that wolves or proto dogs lurked around early human camps.

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Theories on Dog Domestication

Offering a scenario of how dogs and humans came together Rudyard Kipling wrote in "Just So Stories" in 1912: "The Woman picked up a roasted mutton-bone and threw it to Wild Dog, and said, “Wild Dog,” and said, 'Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, taste and try.' Wild Dog gnawed the bone, and it was more delicious than anything he had ever tasted, and he said, 'O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, give me another.'..,"The Woman said, 'Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, help my Man to hunt through the day and guard this cave at night, and I will give you as many roast bones and you need."

Some scholars believe early humans adopted wolf pups. Some say early pets were orphaned animals that were found and kept in camps and perhaps even milk from the breast. Others believe that dogs domesticated themselves by scavenging garbage dumps and succeeding generation became less fearful of humans. The animals, perhaps attracted by the smell of meat, approached early human camps. The humans offered them food, the animals hung around and a bond was established that was passed to later generations, with natural selection favoring those less aggressive and better at begging for food. The submissive behavior that subordinate dogs express to dominate dogs and puppies show their mother was extrapolated from dogs to humans.

Monte Morin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Since the time of Charles Darwin, scientists have argued over the origin of domesticated dogs, speculating wildly about how, when and where a toothy, flesh-eating beast was first transformed into man’s best friend. Some experts believe humans were naturally drawn to small, furry wolf pups, and seized them as novelties. Others suggest they were raised for slaughter by early agrarian societies. Yet another theory holds that early proto-dogs were enlisted as helpers by roving bands of hunters, long before humankind ever experimented with agricultural livestock. [Source: Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2013]

“Until recently, many archaeologists and biologists believed that dogs were first domesticated no more than 13,000 years ago, either in East Asia or the Middle East. A burial site in Israel contained the 12,000-year-old remains of an elderly man cradling a puppy. Archaeologists pointed to this find, as well as others, as evidence of a special, ancient bond between dogs and humans. Yet tracing the exact path of dog evolution has been extremely difficult. Ancient dog remains are hard to distinguish from wolf remains, and frequent interbreeding between dogs and wolves further complicate matters. Add to that mankind’s zealous breeding of the animals to enhance specific traits and behaviors and the genetic waters become very clouded.

“In fact, Darwin himself believed that the dizzying variety of existing dog breeds argued strongly that dogs must have had more than one wild ancestor. Genetic researchers today say this is most likely not the case, and that domesticated dogs evolved from one ancestor, in one region. “On some levels, understanding the geographic origins of dogs is definitely more difficult than studying humans,” said Greger Larson, a bioarchaelogist at the University of Durham in England.”

Study of the First Domesticated Dogs

Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell wrote in Archaeology magazine, “Just how and when the species first became recognizably "doggy" has preoccupied scientists since the theory of evolution first gained widespread acceptance in the 19th century. The idea that dogs were domesticated from jackals was long ago discarded in favor of the notion that dogs descend from the gray wolf, Canis lupus, the largest member of the Canidae family, which includes foxes and coyotes. While no scholars seriously dispute this basic fact of ancestry, biologists, archaeologists, and just about anyone interested in the history of dogs still debate when, where, and how gray wolves first evolved into the animal that is the ancestor of all dog breeds... Were the first dogs domesticated in China, the Near East, or possibly Africa? Were they first bred for food, companionship, or their hunting abilities? The answers are important, since dogs were the first animals to be domesticated and likely played a critical role in the Neolithic revolution. Recently, biologists have entered the debate, and their genetic analyses raise new questions about when and where wolves first developed into what we today recognize as dogs.[Source: Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell, Archaeology magazine, September/October 2010]

The archaeological record suggests dogs were domesticated in multiple places at different times, but in 2009, a team led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm published an analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of some 1,500 dogs from across the Old World, which narrowed down the time and place of dog domestication to a few hundred years in China. "We found that dogs were first domesticated at a single event, sometime less than 16,300 years ago, south of the Yangtze River," says Savolainen, who posits that all dogs spring from a population of at least 51 female wolves, and were first bred over the course of several hundred years. "This is the same basic time and place as the origin of rice agriculture," he notes. "It's speculative, but it seems that dogs may have first originated among early farmers, or perhaps hunter-gatherers who were sedentary."

In 2010 a team led by biologist Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that domesticated dog DNA overlaps most closely with that of Near Eastern wolves. Wayne and his colleagues suggest that dogs were first domesticated somewhere in the Middle East, then bred with other gray wolves as they spread across the globe, casting doubt on the idea that dogs were domesticated during a single event in a discrete location. Savolainen maintains that Wayne overemphasizes the role of the Near Eastern gray wolf, and that a more thorough sampling of wolves from China would support his team's theory of a single domestication event.

University of Victoria archaeozoologist Susan Crockford, who did not take part in either study, suspects that searching for a single moment when dogs were domesticated overlooks the fact that the process probably happened more than once. "We have evidence that there was a separate origin of North American dogs, distinct from a Middle Eastern origin," says Crockford. "This corroborates the idea of at least two 'birthplaces.' I think we need to think about dogs becoming dogs at different times in different places." As for how dogs first came to be domesticated, Crockford, like many other scholars, thinks dogs descend from wolves that gathered near the camps of semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers, as well as around the first true settlements, to eat scraps. "The process was probably driven by the animals themselves," she says. "I don't think they were deliberately tamed; they basically domesticated themselves." Smaller wolves were probably more fearless and curious than larger, more dominant ones, and so the less aggressive, smaller wolves became more successful at living in close proximity to humans. "I think they also came to have a spiritual role," says Crockford. "Dog burials are firm evidence of that. Later, perhaps they became valued as sentries. I don't think hunting played a large role in the process initially. Their role as magical creatures was probably very important in the early days of the dog-human relationship." [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell, Archaeology magazine, September/October 2010]

Greek vase depiction of boar hunting

Early Development of Dogs and Dog Breeds

Early dogs were smaller and the had relatively smaller snouts than wolves. When dogs were first domesticated their snouts and brain cases changed shape. Over time dogs developed tame dispositions. Their teeth and skulls grew smaller as they no longer needed to bring down large prey. Their brains became smaller as their diet switched from meat to human garbage (brains require a lot of calories and protein for growth and maintenance).

Early dogs were used for hunting and consumed for food. They also likely proved themselves useful by eating garbage, warning humans of danger and keeping people warm. In the Middle East dogs were used for hunting and herding wild goats and sheep and later used to herd domestic version of these animals.

Early dogs were medium size and resembled the skittish brown dogs found meekly scavenging around Third World villages. It is believed that the earliest breeds emerged as early people raised dogs that were good at things like guarding and hunting. Environment was also important. In cold climates, large dogs with thick coats have better chances at survival and reproduction than small, short-haired varieties.

Later humans began crossbreeding dogs with desirable characteristics that gave birth to the breeds we know today. In the mid 1800s, kennel clubs were established that officially recognized breeds and encouraged the development of new breeds. Most recently created breeds were created for their appearance.

Dog Domestication: 27,000 to 40,000 Years Ago?

Genetic information drawn from a 35,000-year-old wolf bone found below a frozen cliff in northernmost Russia led scientists to estimate that canine domestication occurred much earlier than previously thought. Will Dunham of Reuters wrote: “Scientists said they pieced together the genome of the wolf that lived on Russia's Taimyr Peninsula and found that it belonged to a population that likely represented the most recent common ancestor between dogs and wolves. Using this genetic information, they estimated that dog domestication occurred between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago. Previous research based on genetic data from modern-day wolves and dogs had estimated that dogs were first domesticated 11,000 to 16,000 years ago based on an estimate of how quickly mutations occurred across the genome. [Source: Will Dunham, Reuters, May 21, 2015]

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tree of ancient dog breeds

“Swedish Museum of Natural History geneticist Love Dalén said the Taimyr wolf genome showed that the rate of mutation was only about half of what previously had been assumed, indicating domestication occurred much earlier. "The difference between the earlier genetic studies and ours is that we can calibrate the rate of evolutionary change in dog and wolf genomes directly, and we find that the first separation of dog ancestors must have been in the older range," Harvard Medical School geneticist Pontus Skoglund added.

“Dalén found the wolf bone fragment, likely a part of a rib, in the Siberian permafrost. The wolf likely belonged to a population that roamed the Eurasian steppe tundra during the last Ice Age, hunting large prey like bison, musk ox and horses, Dalén said."I think one of the simplest explanations is that hunter-gatherers may have caught wolf pups, which is extremely easy to do, and kept them in captivity as sentinels against the large predators that roamed the landscapes of the last Ice Age - bears, cave lions, etc. as well as other dangerous mammals - mammoths, woolly rhinos, other humans," Dalén said.

“Skoglund said Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs share a large number of genes with the Taimyr wolf. "The most likely explanation is that the Siberian domestic dog populations interbred with local wolves when they followed early human groups into northern latitudes," Skoglund said. The research was published in the journal Current Biology.

DNA Study: Most Dogs Came from a 40,000-Year-Old Wolf Pack?

In 2017, a team led by Stony Brook University genomicist Krishna Veeramah published a study in the journal Nature Communications, Veeramah that argued that the most plausible explanation for dog domestication was a single domestication event [Source:Ben Guarino, Washington Post, July 18, 2017 /*/]

Ben Guarino wrote in the Washington Post: “The wolf-dog split is a tricky one. “Dogs and wolves are promiscuous, and the species boundary between them is a leaky one,” said Adam Boyko, an expert on dog genetics at Cornell University in New York and an author of the 2015 study. “To further complicate it, it seems like dogs were domesticated from a wolf population that has likely gone extinct in the wild.” // “The new work focused more on the when than the where. Dogs separated from wolves between 36,900 to 41,500 years ago, a date that Veeramah and his colleagues reached by calculating the rate of canine mutations over time. They compared DNA from ancient specimens with modern genetic data to create what's known as a molecular clock. //

“The biologists also analyzed a 5,000-year-old dog skull from Cherry Tree Cave in Germany. They combined this data with that from a dog bone found in Newgrange, Ireland, which was included in the 2016 dual-domestication report. They compared these three with snippets of genetic info from 5,600 wolves and modern dogs, plus nearly 100 complete canine genomes. By tracking the mutation rates, the scientists determined dogs probably split from wolves about 40,000 years ago. Dogs divided into two groups — European and Asian groups — about 20,000 years afterward, the authors said. /*/

“The DNA revealed that the German animals “looked like modern dogs, in particular like European dogs,” Veeramah said. The study was “concordant” with the idea of a single origin for the wolf-dog split, he added. “Given the high degree of sharing of sweeps,” which is to say genetic signatures, “between these ancient samples and modern samples, it seems clear that these dogs descend from a single domestication origin,” Boyko said in an email. It does not rule out a separate domestication event, he said, but that event would have “contributed little if any genetic material to these genomes.” /*/

Dogs Domesticated Separately in Europe and Asia?

Humans may have domesticated dogs two separate times, taming wolves both in Europe and Asia thousands of years ago. AFP reported: “A major international research project may have cleared some of the controversy surrounding the origins of "man's best friend," which has until now remained a mystery with two primary hypotheses. The first holds that humans domesticated dogs for the first time in Europe more than 15,000 years ago. Opposing researchers believe the domestication happened approximately 12,500 years ago in Central Asia or China. [Source: AFP, June 3, 2016]

“The new study, published in the American journal Science, suggests both claims might carry weight. "Maybe the reason there hasn't been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right," said Greg Larson, a top Oxford University researcher who helped lead the project. Researchers used ancient DNA evidence and the archaeological record of early dog species in their research.

The project involved sequencing for the first time the genome of a 4,800-year-old dog at Trinity College in Dublin. That dog's bones came from the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Newgrange, Ireland, a contemporary of Stonehenge in England. The team also used mitochondrial DNA from 59 ancient dogs who lived between 14,000 to 3,000 years ago, comparing the samples to genetic traits of more than 2,500 modern dogs. Their findings suggest dogs were separately domesticated both in Europe and in Asia, and later mixed as humans migrated across the continent. That would mean most dogs today are a genetic mix of their Asian and European ancestors.

The new hypothesis would explain in part why scientists have had a hard time interpreting previous genetic studies. "The new model is provocative and exciting," said John Novembre, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago. "The full collaboration is going to be essential to untangling this complicated story." The double origin theory could also suggest that cats and pigs were domesticated multiple times, said Peter Savolainen, a geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm."If domestication only happened in one place, it was probably a very hard thing to do," he said. "But if it happened twice, maybe it wasn't as hard as we thought."

DNA Evidence of Dog Domestication in the Middle East

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Genetic studies made public March 2010 indicate that dogs were domesticated in the Middle East not the Far East as had been previously suggested. In the study published online in the journal Nature by a team led by Robert Wayne, a professor of evolutionary biology at UCLA, genetic comparisons were made between 900 dogs from 85 breeds and over 20 gray wolves, the closest living wild relatives of dogs. Using molecular genetic techniques, the scientists looked at more than 48,000 markers in the entire genome — or DNA sequence — of each animal in the study.

What the scientists found was that the vast majority of dogs share unique genetic markers with gray wolves from the Middle East than other wild population, with a small number of East Asian dog breeds having similarities with wolves from China . The finding is consistent with archaeological data that links the domestication of dogs — as well as cats and many livestock animals — with the rise of human civilization in the Fertile Crescent in modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

the finding that all dogs evolved from wolves in East Asia came from comparison between a single, small DNA sequence taken from mitochondria. Wayner told Reuters, the new research was far more comprehensive and “is much more consistent with the archaeological record...We know that dogs from the Middle East were closely associated with humans because they were found in human burial sites.

DNA Evidence of Dog Domestication in East Asia

A DNA study conducted by Swedish team concluded that East Asia was the most likely place of origin for domesticated dogs. In the study DNA was taken from 654 dogs from around the world, and the scientists found the most genetic variation among dogs in China — which suggests that they have lived there the longest, mixing up their genes — thus concluding that dogs originated there. The evidence also suggest the transformation took place around 15,000 years ago.

Tibetan Mastif

A 1997 study based of an analysis of genetic material suggests that domestication may have occurred as long as 135,000 years ago. The study. done by biologists at UCLA, was based on DNA samples from coyotes, jackals, 67 breeds of dog and 27 wolf population throughout Europe, Asia and North America. The scientists found that the present-day breeds of dogs carried the genetic fingerprints of a single female similar to way humans carry the genetic material of a single female dubbed as Eve. The wide variety of genetic variation of dog species is presented as evidence that dogs were domesticated much earlier than previously thought.

DNA evidence also suggests that wolves were domesticated on four separate occasions or were domesticated once and then dogs and wolves interbred later. Dog probably mated freely with wolves for thousands of years before they were selectively bred. Scientists believe that early dogs resembled wolves and did not being looking like domestic dogs until around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

DNA studies have also showed that wolves are the only ancestors of dogs and that jackals and coyotes broke off from the family tree much earlier than dogs evolved from wolves. New World dogs appear to have crossed the Bering land bridge with the first human settlers more than 12,000 years ago. DNA from ancient dogs found in California and Alaska show close links to ancient dogs from Europe and Asia, suggesting that they too descended from Old World rather than New World wolves.

Dogs Domesticated from a Northern European Ancestor 18,800 and 32,100 Years Ago?

19,000-year-old image of a wolf from a European cave

Monte Morin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In research published in the journal Science, evolutionary biologists analyzed the mitochondrial genomes of 18 ancient dogs and wolves. Then they compared them to an array of modern counterparts, and even a few coyotes.The authors concluded that dog domestication most likely occurred in Ice Age Europe, between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago -- much earlier, and much farther north, than previously believed. [Source: Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2013]

“Dogs, the authors argued, evolved from a now extinct species of European wolf that followed bands of nomadic or semi-nomadic humans who were hunting woolly mammoths and other large prey. Initially, the wolves sought out the carcasses and scraps of meat left behind by man, the authors suggest. Over time, these hang-around wolves began to fill a special role in human hunter-gatherer society, researchers say. “

“The initial interactions were probably at arm’s length, as these were large, aggressive carnivores,” senior study author Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biology professor at UCLA, told the Los Angeles Times. “Eventually though, wolves entered the human niche. ... Maybe they even assisted humans in locating prey, or deterred other carnivores from interfering with the hunting activities of humans.” From Europe, domesticated dogs spread across the Old World, and then to the Americas. However, the robust European wolf that got the fetch ball rolling left no other living descendants besides dogs.

31,700-Year-Old Dog Remains Found in a Belgian Cave

It can be very difficult to distinguish between wolf and dog skeletons, especially early in the history of dogs, when they would have been much more similar to wolves than they are today. What are perhaps the earliest dog-like remains date to 31,700 years ago and were first excavated in the 19th century at Goyet Cave in Belgium. Paleontologist Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences recently led a team that studied a canid skull from the cave and concluded that it had a significantly shorter snout than wolves from the same period. [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell, Archaeology magazine, September/October 2010]

This dog-like wolf could represent the first step toward domestication and would make the Paleolithic people we call the Aurignacians, better known as the first modern humans to occupy Europe, the world's first known dog fanciers. But the analysis is controversial, and there is a large gap between the age of the Goyet Cave "dog" and the next oldest skeletons that could plausibly be called dog-like, which date to 14,000 years ago in western Russia. Perhaps the Goyet Cave wolf represents an isolated instance of domestication and left no descendants. But based on finds of dog skeletons throughout the Old World, from China to Africa, we know that certainly by 10,000 years ago dogs were playing a critical role in the lives of humans all over the world, whether as sentries, ritual sacrifices, or sources of protein.

The oldest known evidence of what is thought to be domesticated dog according to some is a 14,000-year-old jaw bone found in a Paleolithic grave at Oberkassel in Germany. The dog was regarded as domesticated because it was valued enough to be buried. Buried dog bones from around the same time have been found in Iraq and Israel. A 12,000-year-old grave in Israel contains the remains of a human cradling the bones of wolf or dog puppy. This is some of the earliest evidence of dog domestication. Canine bones have been found at 400,000-year-old human settlements but scientists regarded these bones of tame wolves not dogs.

Criticism of the European Ancestor Theory from the Asian Ancestor Contingent

Monte Morin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Peter Savolainen, an associate professor of evolutionary genetics at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, argues that evidence shows dogs were first domesticated in China, probably as a source of food. Savolainen points out that Wayne and his colleagues published an earlier paper citing the Middle East as the origin of domestic dogs, but have abandoned that view. “They don’t comment on that in this paper and they should,” Savolainen said. [Source: Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2013]

“He pointed out too that the paper lacks animal samples from the Middle East or China. “The only thing you’re looking at is European and Russian samples,” he said. “What can you tell really about anything? If you only have European samples, obviously you will find that Europe is the origin.”

“Wayne said he and his colleagues did not include samples from those areas because they were too recent, only about 7,000 or 8,000 years old. “That’s well after dogs were domesticated, so we’re kind of limited in that sense,” he said. As for the turnabout on the Middle East hypothesis, Wayne said it was based on new genetic evidence and the realization that domesticated dogs interbreed with local wolf populations, confusing the genetic signal.”

Dogs and Humans Become Especially Close When Agriculture Took Hold?

David Brown wrote in the Washington Post: “A team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. On their way from pack-hunting carnivore to fireside companion, dogs learned to desire — or at least live on — wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. As it turns out, the same thing happened to humans as they came out of the forest, invented agriculture and settled into diets rich in grains. “I think it is a striking case of co-evolution,” said Erik Axelsson, a geneticist at Uppsala University. “The fact that we shared a similar environment in the last 10,000 years caused a similar adaptation. And the big change in the environment was the development of agriculture.” [Source: David Brown, Washington Post, January 23, 2013 ]

“The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, support the hypothesis that dogs evolved from wolves who found a new food source in refuse on the outskirts of human settlements. Eventually they came to tolerate human contact and were brought into the household to be guards, workers and companions. Archaeological remains reveal dogs and humans sharing the same graves 11,000 years ago. That was at the dawn of agriculture; the two species appear to have been at least acquaintances by then. “Pretty much everyone without an agenda agrees that we don’t really have a good handle about why wolves domesticated into dogs when they did,” said Adam Boyko, a geneticist at Cornell University who studies dog evolution and was not involved in the new research. “But it does seem reasonable, and in agreement with the fossil and genetic record, that it could have predated agriculture somewhat.”

“The evidence of natural selection in the number and efficiency of key digestive enzymes supports the hypothesis that dogs may have domesticated themselves as a way to exploit the garbage of permanent human settlements.“Humans had nothing to do with it,” said Raymond Coppinger, an emeritus professor of biology and expert on dog evolution at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. “There was a new niche that was all of a sudden available for somebody to move into. Dogs are selected to scavenge off people.” Accompanying the dietary change — and probably evolving along with it — were behavior changes that allowed dogs to tolerate living near people and ultimately being adopted by them. The Swedish researchers found strong evidence of genetic differences in brain function — and particularly brain development — between wolves and dogs, which they have not yet analyzed.

“In the new study, Axelsson and his colleagues examined DNA from 12 wolves and 60 dogs. The wolf samples were from animals from the United States, Sweden, Russia, Canada and several other northern countries. The dogs were from 14 breeds. The researchers compared the DNA sequences of the wolves and the dogs (which are subspecies of the same species, Canis lupus) and identified 36 genomic regions in which there are differences that suggest they have undergone recent natural selection in dogs.

Egyptian and Assyrian dogs

“In particular, dogs show changes in genes governing three key steps in the digestion of starch. The first is the breakdown of large carbohydrate molecules into smaller pieces; the second is the chopping of those pieces into sugar molecules; the third is the absorption of those molecules in the intestine. “It is such a strong signal that it makes us convinced that being able to digest starch efficiently was crucial to dogs. It must have been something that determined whether you were a successful dog or not,” Axelsson said.

“The change is at least partly the consequence of dogs having multiple copies of a gene for amylase, an enzyme made by the pancreas that is involved in the first step of starch digestion. Wolves have two copies; dogs have four to 30. As it happens, amylase “gene duplication” is also a feature of human evolution. Humans carry more copies of the amylase gene than their primate ancestors. People also produce the enzyme in saliva, which allows the first steps of digestion to occur while food is still in the mouth. That, in turn, rewards chewing and increases the palatability of food. In dogs, however, the increased amylase activity occurs only in the pancreas. The enzyme isn’t at work in their mouths, probably because the food doesn’t stay there long enough. Dogs may be able to eat human food, but they still wolf it down.

“The researchers found 19 genome regions containing nervous system genes that are significantly different between wolves and dogs. Eight regions contain genes governing brain development. Sociability around strangers, curiosity and playfulness are traits seen in both wolf pups and dog pups. So are floppy ears, broader faces and liberal tail-wagging. They all persist in adult dogs but are largely extinguished in adult wolves. This retention of juvenile traits into adulthood — a phenomenon known as “neoteny” — is a key feature of domestication, some biologists believe. In a famous four-decade, 40-generation experiment in Russia, these traits emerged in foxes when scientists selectively bred the animals for tameness.

“But the process may not require human intervention. Similar behavior probably evolved naturally in dogs. The willingness to wander fearlessly among people is a big plus if scavenging human food is your business (as it still is for millions of “village dogs” around the world). There’s a theory that this “self-domestication” also happened in the evolution of Homo sapiens. As people created permanent settlements — and running away from those you didn’t like (or killing them) became less of an option — there may have been a survival advantage to being cooperative and self-controlled. It’s possible that studying the genes that determine dog sociability might shed light on how a less aggressive, more civilized human evolved, Axelsson said.”

9,400-Year-Old Domesticated Dog, a Food Source in the Americas?

dog mummies
In 2011, AP reported: “Nearly 10,000 years ago, man's best friend provided protection and companionship — and an occasional meal. That's what researchers are saying after finding a bone fragment from what they are calling the earliest confirmed domesticated dog in the Americas. [Source: Clarke Canfield, Associated Press, January 19, 2011]

University of Maine graduate student Samuel Belknap III came across the fragment while analyzing a dried-out sample of human waste unearthed in southwest Texas in the 1970s. A carbon-dating test put the age of the bone at 9,400 years, and a DNA analysis confirmed it came from a dog — not a wolf, coyote or fox, Belknap said. Because it was found deep inside a pile of human excrement and was the characteristic orange-brown color that bone turns when it has passed through the digestive tract, the fragment provides the earliest direct evidence that dogs — besides being used for company, security and hunting — were eaten by humans and may even have been bred as a food source, he said.

Belknap wasn't researching dogs when he found the bone. Rather, he was looking into the diet and nutrition of the people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago. "It just so happens this person who lived 9,400 years ago was eating dog," Belknap said.

Belknap and other researchers from the University of Maine and the University of Oklahoma's molecular anthropology laboratories, where the DNA analysis was done, have written a paper on their findings. The paper was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. For his research, Belknap — who does not own a dog himself — had fecal samples shipped to him that had been unearthed in 1974 and 1975 from an archaeological site known as Hinds Cave and kept in storage at Texas A&M University. The fragment is about six-tenths of an inch long and three- to four-tenths of an inch wide, or about the size of a fingernail on a person's pinkie.

Belknap and a fellow student identified the bone as a fragment from where the skull connects with the spine. He said it came from a dog that probably resembled the small, short-nosed, short-haired mutts that were common among the Indians of the Great Plains.Judging by the size of the bone, Belknap figures the dog weighed about 25 to 30 pounds. He also found what he thinks was a bone from a dog foot, but the fragment was too small to be analyzed. Other archaeological digs have put dogs in the U.S. dating back 8,000 years or more, but this is the first time it has been scientifically proved that dogs were here that far back, he said.

Kurdish mastiff on an Assyrian tablet

Darcy Morey, a faculty member at Radford University who has studied dog evolution for decades, said a study from the 1980s dated a dog found at Danger Cave, Utah, at between 9,000 and 10,000 years old. Those dates were based not on carbon-dating or DNA tests, but on an analysis of the surrounding rock layers. "So 9,400 years old may be the oldest, but maybe not," Morey told AP in an e-mail. Morey, whose 2010 book, "Dogs: Domestication and the Development of a Social Bond," traces the evolution of dogs, said he is skeptical about DNA testing on a single bone fragment because dogs and wolves are so similar genetically.

Belknap said there may well be older dogs in North America, but this is the oldest directly dated one he is aware of. For many years, researchers thought that dog bones from an archaeological site in Idaho were 11,000 years old, but additional testing put their age at between 1,000 and 3,000 years old, he said. "If there's one thing our discovery is showing it's that we can utilize these techniques and learn a lot more about dogs in the New World if we apply these tests to all these early samples," he said.

The earliest dogs in North America are believed to have come with the early settlers across the Bering land bridge from Asia to the Americas 10,000 years ago or earlier, said Wayne. It doesn't surprise Belknap that dogs were a source of food for humans. A lot of people in Central America regularly ate dogs, he said. Across the Great Plains, some Indian tribes ate dogs when food was scarce or for celebrations, he said. "It was definitely an accepted practice among many populations," he said.

Russian Steppe Teens Ate Dogs 4,000 Years Ago in Manhood Ritual

According to a paper published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, roasted and chopped bones from at least 64 dogs and wolves, found at the 4000-year-old site of Krasnosamarskoe (Kras-no-sa-MAR-sko-yeh), north of the Caspian Sea in the Russian steppe, were signs of an initiation rite in which teenage boys ate the flesh of dogs at a ritual site to “transform” them into men. [Source: Bridget Alex, Discover, August 8, 2017]

Kurdish shepherd dog

Bridget Alex wrote in Discover: “Initiation rites, in which boys lived in the wild, acting like wolves and dogs, are described in ancient texts of Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Iranian, and Vedic Sanskrit—all Indo-European cultures that descended from the same ancestral group. Dog- and wolf-themed initiations were “very widespread in Indo-European mythology,” says archaeologist David Anthony, who coauthored the study with Dorcas Brown, both of Hartwick College, New York. “This seems to be the first site where we have concrete evidence for the actual existence of this kind of practice.” Moreover, finding a common Indo-European ritual of this age, in this region, adds support to a debated hypothesis: that Indo-European peoples originated on the Pontic-Caspian steppe and spread across Eurasia, aided by their invention of horse-drawn, wheeled vehicles.

“The small settlement of Krasnosamarskoe held a cemetery and two or three buildings, inhabited 3,700-3,900 years ago by people of the Srubnaya culture, sedentary pastoralists of the steppe. Although Srubnaya people left no written records, some say they spoke an Indo-European language based on cultural and genetic similarities with other Indo-European groups. Archaeologists from the U.S. and Russia excavated the site between 1995-2001, to investigate if, in addition to herding, the Srubnaya were also farming, as is the case with most sedentary people. “We found no evidence for agriculture whatsoever,” says Anthony.

“What they did find was chopped dogs and wolves—a lot of them. Dozens of dogs and at least seven wolves comprised 40 percent of the animal bones at Krasnosamarskoe. Other Srubnaya sites had less than 3 percent canid. “It was a surprise. It was anomalous,” says Anthony. He recalls thinking, “uh oh what does this mean?” Butchered dogs are relatively rare from archaeological sites worldwide, according to Lidar Sapir-Hen, an animal bone specialist at Tel Aviv University, Israel, who was not involved in the study. “If they are found they are usually buried complete…eating them is not a common practice,” says Sapir-Hen.

“At Krasnosamarskoe, the dogs and wolves had been roasted, fileted and chopped into bit-sized, 1- to 3-inch pieces. Over the span of about two generations, the canids were killed predominately in winter, based on microscopic analysis of growth lines in their teeth formed annually during warm and cold seasons. Most of the dogs were old, between six and 12 years, and well treated in life; their bones showed few signs of trauma before they were sacrificed. According to Anthony, “They were familiar pets.” Cows, sheep and other animals at the site did not show these patterns. They were killed year-round, sometimes at young ages, and butchered less intensively. While other animals were chopped into eight to 23 pieces, the average dog ended up in 54 parts. “Particularly the dog heads were chopped in a very standardized way with an axe, like somebody who has practiced and done it many times,” adds Anthony. And over 70 percent of the dogs subjected to DNA analysis proved to be male, hinting the canids were involved in male initiation rites.”

Dog Ritual Settlement at Krasnosamarskoe

Bridget Alex wrote in Discover: “The dog remains caused archaeologists to reevaluate other unusual features of the site. For example, although the researchers did not find agricultural plants, they did identify wild ones with medicinal properties, such as Seseli, a sedative possibly given to animals or humans during the rituals. With 27 graves, the site’s cemetery contained mostly children and only 4 complete adults — two males and two females. The adult men had unusual skeletal injuries caused by twisting to their knees, ankles, and lower backs. [Source: Bridget Alex, Discover, August 8, 2017]

“Anthony thinks the adults represent two generations — two couples — of ritual specialists who lived at the site. And the injuries: “This is just speculative… but it might be related to shamanic dancing,” he says. Based on the archaeological finds, researchers concluded that Krasnosamarskoe was a place where males went episodically, over many years, to eat dogs and wolves during rituals overseen by the site’s residents. But to understand the meaning of those rituals, Anthony and Brown reviewed the myths of many ancient and modern cultures. “We start looking for explanations for a male-centered rite of passage in which they’re being symbolically transformed into dogs and wolves,” says Anthony.

“There turned out to be plenty of examples in ancient Indo-European texts. These widespread sources discussed groups of adolescent boys, usually from elite families, who would spend a few years behaving like dogs or wolves in order to be initiated as warrior men. During this period, the teens were permitted to “behave obnoxiously in many ways,” explains Michael Witzel, a scholar of Sanskrit and ancient mythology at Harvard University. “Use words they shouldn’t use…Take away cattle from their neighbors.” The boys could raid, steal and have their way with women. They were landless, with no possessions aside from weapons. And they symbolically became dogs or wolves by assuming canid names, wearing skins and sometimes eating the animals.

“Anthony and Brown propose that Krasnosamarskoe was the place where Srubnaya boys went to become dogs, to become men. According to Witzel, “their evidence fits quite nicely,” with the ancient texts. Regarding the dog remains, archaeologist Paula Wapnish-Hesse, says, they “present a pretty good range of arguments that are traditionally used for identifying ritual in animal bone collections.” An expert in ancient texts and animal bones, Wapnish-Hesse has analyzed the largest known dog cemetery, comprising more than 1,000 skeletons of mostly puppies, buried some 2,500 years ago at the site of Ashkelon, Israel. Their attempt to extrapolate myths to a culture without written texts, is “a very ambitious bite,” she adds. “They’re going out on a limb and it’s good.”

“However, some scholars disagree with the views that the Srubnaya culture belonged to Indo-European traditions, and that Indo-Europeans originated in the steppe. The main alternative hypothesis is that these cultures descend from early farmers of Anatolia, in present-day Turkey. To this objection, Anthony and Brown respond, in the article, that Indo-European languages were spoken across much of Bronze Age Eurasia in this period and “therefore are ‘on the table’ as possible sources of information.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Dog Origin sites map, Discover magazine

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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