October 18, 2008

Dog domestication in the Aurignacian (c. 32kyBP)

From the paper:
Interestingly, when compared to extant wolf and dog sequences available from GenBank, all seven haplotypes found in the Pleistocene samples were found to be unique and not described to date. This result is remarkable when considering the large number of wolf (~160) and particularly dog sequences (> 1,000 from almost all breeds known today) available in Genbank.

This may be consistent with selection affecting mtDNA since the Paleolithic, with recent dogs and wolves being descended from a small subset of the Paleolithic mtDNA diversity. Also from the paper:
Compared to wolves, ancient dogs exhibit a shorter and broader snout (Lawrence, 1967; Olsen, 1985; Sablin and Khlopachev, 2002). All Palaeolithic dogs in our study conform to this pattern.


As demonstrated above, the Palaeolithic dogs in our data set are very uniform in their skull shape. Even the Goyet dog, with an age of c. 31,700 BP, is not intermediate in form between the fossil wolves and the prehistoric dogs, but conforms to the configuration of the other Palaeolithic dogs, which are approximately 18,000 years younger. The abrupt appearance of a dog, much older than the Eliseevich I dogs, the oldest recognized dogs so far, suggest that the domestication process must have been quite rapid (cf. Crockford, 2000a).

Was the dog the very first animal to be domesticated by man, truly his "oldest friend"? I would not be surprised if our relationship with dogs stretches even further to the past. Dogs are such useful helpers in a hunting culture, that their value must have been recognized from early on.

Journal of Archaeological Science doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.09.033

Fossil dogs and wolves from Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes

Mietje Germonpré et al.


Using multivariate techniques, several skulls of fossil large canids from sites in Belgium, Ukraine and Russia were examined to look for possible evidence of the presence of Palaeolithic dogs. Reference groups constituted of prehistoric dogs, and recent wolves and dogs. The fossil large canid from Goyet (Belgium), dated at c. 31,700 BP is clearly different from the recent wolves, resembling most closely the prehistoric dogs. Thus it is identified as a Palaeolithic dog, suggesting that dog domestication had already started during the Aurignacian. The Epigravettian Mezin 5490 (Russia) and Mezhirich (Ukraine) skulls are also identified as being Palaeolithic dogs. Select Belgian specimens were analysed for mtDNA and stable isotopes. All fossil samples yielded unique DNA sequences, indicating that the ancient Belgian large canids carried a substantial amount of genetic diversity. Furthermore, there is little evidence for phylogeographic structure in the Pleistocene large canids, as they do not form a homogenous genetic group. Although considerable variation occurs in the fossil canid isotope signatures between sites, the Belgian fossil large canids preyed in general on horse and large bovids.



terryt said...

I suspect that dog domestication was very gradual and, even if we were somehow able to observe the whole process, it would be extremely difficult to define any boundary between domestic and wild. The association probably developed through the hunting of the same species. Humans and dogs would both have an advantage through some co-operation without necessarily having intimate contact with each other. Each would be able to pick up the scraps of the other's successful hunts.

eurologist said...

A couple of other major advantages I see for having dogs around are:

- as an alarm/ warning systems against predators and other human/ Neanderthal groups approaching,

- to guard children

I can imagine wandering groups were often short on such personnel. Not every hunting or foraging party or group left behind had the luxury of dedicating a couple of people to stand guard all night, and others ready with weapons.

In fact, I would go as far and say that intrusion into Neanderthal-dominated West Asia and Europe would have been, and perhaps was, much easier with dogs around.

terryt said...

You could be onto something there. And the examples you give would hold even if the dogs were not really domesticated but just hung around with the human groups they'd become associated with.

eurologist said...

I am sure these guys


would like a second chance of writing their paper. Apart from a severe lack of caution in the quantitative analysis, that paper seems like a prime example of "insufficient genetic information and interpretation meets current (yet wrong) archaeological evidence." I'd say, if in doubt, consider things happened earlier.

Considering the evidence, I venture that domestication happened after modern humans and a smallish subspecies of mid-latitude western Asian wolves developed tentative symbiosis during the ~20,000 years humans were in limbo before conditions and culture/equipment where right, ~45,000 to 40,000 years ago, to conquer both Northern Asia and Europe.

Crimson Guard said...

Not sure how a dog can fend off against a Sabertooth cat or the Leo Europaea( although competition with feral dogs is supposedly a factor in the latter's final extinction a few thousand years ago). Neanderthal's were supposed to be good hunters and good weapon craftsmen. So I dont think a dog would've made much a threat to them, it might be possible they domesticated them even for that matter.

eurologist said...

Well, with dogs it's not one, but many, against solitary cats. And no predator invites certain injury just to get to some inconvenient food.

Moreover, it's the alarm system aspect that was probably most important, and perhaps the dogs ability to trace down human or animal invaders. The dogs early nervousness and barking would have given people more time to wake up and/or prepare for battle.

Neanderthalers never threw things. They hunted with heavy spears that were thrust. I can't imagine a poorer weapon against a bunch of agile dogs.