This most beautiful of relationships

That of man and dog.

A number of items have crossed my screen that, together, present the most wonderful story of the intensity and length of the time that mankind has shared his life with the dog.

First is this piece from from 2008 when this was big news.

A Possible Domestication Of Dogs During The Aurignacian: 31,700 Years Ago

Both Dienkes and John Hawks have shared news about the latest research on the domestication of dogs. The researchers analyze 117 skulls of prehistoric canids from sites in Belgium, Ukraine and Russia. They conclude that a 31,700 year old canid from Belgium is ‘clearly different from the recent wolves, resembling most closely the prehistoric dogs.’

The draft can be found in the Journal of Archaeological Science under the title, “Fossil dogs and wolves from Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes.” If the dating, and phylogenetic analysis is correct, these remains makes them the oldest known remains of domesticated dog, pushing back domestication time by 17,700 years, since the second oldest known dog, found in Russia, dates to 14,000 years ago as explained by Carl Feagans.

Doral View of the Goyet Cave Dog (a) and wolf skulls (b & c)Doral View of the Goyet Cave Dog (a) and wolf skulls (b & c)

Prehistoric dogs are distinguished from both prehistoric and extant wolves in having a shorter and broader snout, relatively wider brain cases, and a general reduction in skull size. Palaeolithic dogs in the study conform to this pattern. The researchers extended their anatomical analysis to mtDNA and stable isotopes on the Belgian samples. All fossil samples yielded unique DNA sequences.

This is a fascinating article, read the rest of it here.

Next a further explanation of the history of the dog from Archaeology:

Dog history is really the history of the partnership between dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and humans. That partnership is based on human needs for help with herding and hunting, an early alarm system, and a source of food in addition to the companionship many of us today know and love. Dogs get companionship, protection and shelter, and a reliable food source out of the deal. But when this partnership first occurred is at the moment under some controversy.

Dog history has been studied recently using mitochondrial DNA, which suggests that wolves and dogs split into different species around 100,000 years ago; but whether humans had anything to do with that, no one really knows.

Just think about that – 100,000 years ago!  But even if one assumes that early man wasn’t linked to this species divergence, the hard evidence of dogs being special to man still goes back a very long way.  Continuing the piece above:

The oldest dog skull discovered to date is from Goyet Cave, Belgium. The Goyet cave collections (the site was excavated in the mid-19th century) were examined recently (Germonpré and colleagues, cited below) and a fossil canid skull was discovered among them. Although there is some confusion as to which level the skull came from, it has been direct-dated by AMS at 31,700 BP. The skull most closely represents prehistoric dogs, rather than wolves. The study examining the Goyet cave also identified what appears to be prehistoric dogs at Chauvet Cave (~26,000 bp) and Mezhirich in the Ukraine (ca 15,000 years BP), among others.

However, I am told that what the Goyet Cave skull represents is not a “domesticated dog” but rather a wolf in transition to a dog, and that the physical changes seen in the skulls (consisting primarily of the shortening of the snout) may have been driven by changes in diet, rather than specific selection of traits by humans. That transition in diet could well have been partly due to the beginnings of a relationship between humans and dogs, although the relationship might have been as tenuous as animals following human hunters to scavenge, rather like the behavior that is believed to have existed between humans and cats. You could argue that cats never have been domesticated, they just take advantage of the mice we attract

As they say, dogs have masters, cats have slaves! Millions of dog owners have a relationship with their dog that is close to spiritual, and that also isn’t new. Let’s read on:

A burial site in Germany called Bonn-Oberkassel has joint human and dog interments dated to 14,000 years ago. The earliest domesticated dog found in China is at the early Neolithic (7000-5800 BC) Jiahu site in Henan Province. European Mesolithic sites like Skateholm(5250-3700 BC) in Sweden have dog burials, proving the value of the furry beasts to hunter-gatherer settlements. Danger Cave in Utah is the earliest case of dog burial in the Americas, at about 11,000 years ago.

Haplotypes and Grey Wolves

A recent study led by Robert Wayne (vonHoldt et al., below) at UCLA and appearing in Nature in March 2010 reported that dogs appear to have a higher proportion of wolf haplotypes from grey wolves native to the Middle East. That suggests, contrary to earlier studies, that the middle east was the original location of domestication. What also showed up in this report was evidence for either a second Asian domestication or a later admixture with Chinese wolves.

Dog History: When Were Dogs Domesticated?

It seems clear that dog domestication was a long process, which started far longer ago than was believed even as recently as 2008. Based on evidence from Goyet and Chauvetcaves in Europe, the dog domestication process probably began as long ago as 30,000 years, although the oldest evidence for a broader relationship, a working relationship, is at the Bonn-Oberkassel site, 14,000 years ago. The story of dog domestication is still in transition itself.

14,000 years ago people buried a dog with a human!  That is so beautiful.

Finally, National Geographic have been showing a series on this wonderful relationship between man and dog.  Enjoy this introduction video.

8 thoughts on “This most beautiful of relationships

  1. What a resourceful post! Thank you. I salute you for the amount of research you do about our furry friends.
    And it’s true –the relationship we have with dogs is indeed “most beautiful!”

    I received an email from a friend about an event coming up I wanted to share with you.

    –The, “9th Annual UCLA Center for Society and Genetics Symposium, “Made for each other? Dog and Human Co-Evolution”, February 25th and 26th, 2011.
    (copied/pasted, hope it works)

    It sounds like an exciting event. A few of the discussions:

    “How, where and when did wolves evolve into dogs, and what was humanity’s role in the process?”

    “How have natural selection, artificial selection and shared culture influenced the bond between dogs and humans?”

    “What key characteristics of dogs and humans make them so well-suited for one another as companions, and how have these traits co-evolved over time?”

    I couldn’t help but think of LFD’s site when I read the email.


    1. Great link. Oh I wish we could attend! See if I can get hold of some of the papers being presented. Thanks for your support of this Blog – it makes such a difference!


  2. Yes, I wish I could attend also. I was hoping you might be able to find some of the papers. I wish they had the event available online.

    Supporting your blog is easy, educational, moving and I feel blessed to have found it.

    Thank you again for your work here.



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