A cache of animal bones 11,500 years old suggests an answer.
Brigit Katz of The Smithsonian wrote an article in January that revealed that dogs and humans hunted together many thousands of years ago.
Humans and Dogs May Have Hunted Together in Prehistoric Jordan
Bones at a settlement called Shubayqa 6 show clear signs of having been digested—but were much too large to have been eaten by humans
By Brigit Katz
JANUARY 17, 2019
When and where dogs came to be domesticated is a subject of scientific debate, but there is a wealth of research that attests to the long, intertwined history of humans and their best animal buddies. One theory about the early origins of this relationship posits that dogs were used to help early humans hunt. And, as Ruth Schuster reports for Haaretz, a new study suggests that this may have been the case among prehistoric peoples of what is now Jordan.
A team of archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen and University College London studied a cache of animal bones at an 11,500-year-old settlement called Shubayqa 6, which is classified as “Pre-Pottery Neolithic A,” or belonging to the first stage of Neolithic culture in the Levant. In the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, the researchers write that they found bones from a canid species, though they could not identify which one because the remains were poorly preserved. They also unearthed the bones of other animals that had been butchered. But perhaps most intriguing were the bones of animals—like gazelle, for instance—that bore clear signs of having passed through a digestive tract.
These bones were too big for humans to have eaten, leading the researchers to surmise that they “must have been digested by dogs,” says lead study author Lisa Yeomans, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Copenhagen. And the researchers don’t think this was a case of wild carnivores sneaking into the settlement to grab a bite.
For one, archaeological evidence indicates that Shubayqa 6 was occupied year-round, suggesting that “dogs were allowed to freely roam around the site picking over the discarded waste, but also defecating in the vicinity of where humans were inhabiting,” the study authors write.
There was also a noticeable surge in hare bones around the time that dogs started to appear at the site, and the researchers think this may be because the dogs were helping humans hunt small prey. Previously, the people of Shubayqa 6 might have relied on tools like netting to catch hares and other animals, says Yeomans, but it wouldn’t have been very effective. Dogs, on the other hand, could selectively target elusive prey.
Humans and dogs thus appear to have forged a reciprocal relationship in Jordan more than 11,000 years ago. There is in fact evidence to suggest that dogs were domesticated by humans in the Near East as early as 14,000 years ago, and some of that evidence seems to point to dogs being used during hunts. Rock art from a site near Shubayqa, for instance, seems to show dogs driving gazelle into a trap.
In light of such archaeological finds, “it would be strange not to consider hunting aided by dogs as a likely explanation for the sudden abundance of smaller prey in the archaeological record,” Yeomans says. Among the ancient peoples of Jordan, in other words, the complex history of dog domestication may have been well underway.
That scientific debate mentioned in the first line of the article has been published in this place before. But I’m going to republish it tomorrow as it so perfectly goes with today’s post.