Some archaeologists carry tools and painstakingly chip away at historic sites. Others might have fluffy bodies, keen senses of smell and an affinity for digging stuff up.
As Tom McEnchroe reports for Radio Praha, a very good dog named Monty recently unearthed a rare trove of Bronze Age artifacts near the Czech village of Kostelecké Horky. Monty was walking with his human, identified as “Mr. Frankota,” in a field when he began pawing frenetically at the ground. Soon, thanks to Monty’s hard work, metallic objects began to emerge in the soil.
The cache of relics includes 13 sickles, two spear points, three axes and several bracelets. The objects have been dated to the Urnfield period around 3,000 years ago. This late European Bronze Age culture is marked by the transition from inhumation burials to cremations; the remains of the dead were interred in urns, giving the era its name. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Urnfield culture first appeared in east-central Europe and northern Italy, but eventually spread “to Ukraine, Sicily, Scandinavia, and across France to the Iberian peninsula.”
It is rare to find a cluster of intact Urnfield objects, according to a press release. “The culture that lived here at the time normally just buried fragments, often melted as well,” Martina Beková, an archaeologist at the Museum and Gallery of Orlické who studied the artifacts after they were discovered by Monty, tells McEnchroe. So she suspects that the relics were tied to a ritual—“most likely a sacrifice of some sorts,” Beková says.
Additional evidence could help pin down the function of the objects, and according to Michelle Starr of Science Alert, local archaeologists have been searching the area in the hopes of finding more relics. They haven’t uncovered anything yet, but Sylvie Velčovská, a spokeswoman for the region, tells McEnchroe that there have been, “considerable changes to the surrounding terrain over the centuries, so it is possible that the deeper layers are still hiding some secrets.”
The newly uncovered objects will be on display at the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains in the town of Rychnov until October 21, after which point they will undergo conservation and be moved to a permanent exhibition in the village of Kostelec.
Frankota, Monty’s owner, was awarded 7860 Czech Koruna (around $360) for his role in alerting archaeologists to the ancient treasures. One can only hope that Monty was given many treats and pets for his superb fieldwork
It’s amazing to think that anyone lived here, that this valley was once green. Now it is sun-blasted, scorching hot, and the only life is the circling vultures and the rainbow-colored iguanas, like something out of a desert hallucination, skittering across the rocks.
The reminders of past life rise up around me, however, eroded to look more like drip castles than the pyramids they once were. I am in Túcume, the once-grand capital of the Sican culture, Peru’s mythical Valley of the Pyramids.
I am not far from Chiclayo, and even closer to the city of Lambayeque, where the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum serves as one of the major tourist attractions on the north coast. Here at Túcume however, there are few visitors.
It is not hard to get to the site. Combis leave regularly from Chiclayo and Lambayeque, dropping passengers in the modern village of Túcume, from which an quick mototaxi ride leads to the ruins. By car or taxi, it is about a 30 minute ride from Chiclayo.
There are two main trails marked out across the desert plain in Túcume. One leads to Cerro Purgatorio, a craggy hill overlooking the 26 pyramids that comprise the site. The trail winds across the scorched valley, between several of the pyramids, before arriving at a staircase leading to different scenic overlooks on the face of Purgatorio.
So what happened at Túcume to cause the civilisation to fail? Maybe this 10-minute film gives the answers, but just a note to say that there are some potentially upsetting scenes for the younger or more sensitive among us.
So anyone sufficiently brave to say that history won’t repeat itself.
Learning from Dogs first saw the light of day two years ago.
It all started on July 15th, 2009, during a very hot summer down in San Carlos, Mexico where I was first living with Jean.
Now, some 1,000 posts later life is very different. Jean and I are now married and living incredibly happily, with our twelve dogs and six cats, in Payson, Arizona, some 80 miles NE of Phoenix, up at 5,000 feet on the fringe of the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest.
So apologies if today’s Post is partly reflective on the last two years. It also seems appropriate to revisit the reasons why so many articles on the Blog aren’t about dogs.
I feel the need to do that because the number of new readers now is just staggering.
The first full month was August 2009. Wordpress stats reveal that there were 1,172 unique viewers of the Blog. The last full month was, of course, June 2011. Wordpress figures were 31,664 unique viewers! That’s over a 1,000 viewers a day, and the trend is still upwards!
I am, of course, deeply moved by this response. Thank you, one and all!
In writing Learning from Dogs, I have tried to stay close to the theme that dogs are a metaphor for change for mankind. But that doesn’t mean that this is a doggy Blog.
As I wrote on the Welcome page, “Dogs live in the present – they just are! Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value.”
Learning from Dogs is a Blog about the fundamental truths that we need to be reminded of, for our long-term survival. Dogs teach us the importance of integrity, of faith and loyalty and of unconditional love.
But just as importantly, dogs are a reminder that our evolution to Neolithic man may have been an evolutionary mistake. Stay with me for just a while.
Dogs were domesticated a mind-numbing number of years ago. There is good evidence that dogs were co-operating with man 30,000 years ago. However, one might speculate why the DNA of the dog separated from the grey wolf approximately 100,000 years ago. Was it because they evolved even that far back as domesticated companions to man? Science can’t tell us that yet.
But 30,000 years ago man was most definitely a hunter-gatherer. Archaeologists have pondered whether the domesticated dog allowed man to be so successful as a hunter-gatherer that, in time, man was able to evolve into farming which, of course, we describe more accurately as the Neolithic Revolution.
The “Neolithic” Revolution is the first agricultural revolution—the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and settlement. Archaeological data indicate that various forms of domestication of plants and animals arose independently in six separate locales worldwide ca. 10,000–7000 years BP (8,000–5000 BC), with the earliest known evidence found throughout the tropical and subtropical areas of southwestern and southern Asia, northern and central Africa and Central America.
However, the Neolithic Revolution involved far more than the adoption of a limited set of food-producing techniques. During the next millennia it would transform the small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that had hitherto dominated human history, into sedentary societies based in built-up villages and towns, which radically modified their natural environment by means of specialized food-crop cultivation (e.g., irrigation and food storage technologies) that allowed extensive surplus food production.
These developments provided the basis for concentrated high population densities settlements, specialized and complex labor diversification, trading economies, the development of non-portable art, architecture, and culture, centralized administrations and political structures, hierarchical ideologies and depersonalized systems of knowledge (e.g., property regimes and writing).
There’s one sentence that just jumps off the ‘page’. It’s this one. “During the next millennia it would transform the small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that had hitherto dominated human history”
Here’s a quick bit of history about Homo Sapiens, from here,
Neanderthal man: from 230,000 years ago
Around 250,000 years ago Homo erectus disappears from the fossil record, to be followed in the Middle Palaeolithic period by humans with brains which again have increased in size. They are the first to be placed within the same genus as ourselves, as Homo sapiens(‘knowing man’).
By far the best known of them is Neanderthal man — named from the first fossil remains to be discovered, in 1856, in the Neander valley near Dusseldorf, in Germany. The scientific name of this subspecies is Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. The Neanderthals are widely spread through Europe and the Middle East, and they thrive for an extremely long period (from about 230,000 to 35,000 years ago). Bones of animals of all sizes, up to bison and mammoth, and sophisticated stone tools are found with their remains.
Thus as a species we, as in H. sapiens, survived for approximately 200,000 years as hunter-gatherers!
Now after just 12,000 years, give or take, as ‘farmers’ we are facing the real risk of extinction. Go back to that WikiPedia extract above and re-read “concentrated high population densities settlements, specialized and complex labor diversification, trading economies, the development of non-portable art, architecture, and culture, centralized administrations and political structures, hierarchical ideologies and depersonalized systems of knowledge (e.g., property regimes and writing)“.
If you want to fully comprehend the mess we, as in man, have got ourselves into, then watch the stunning movie What a Way To Go: life at the end of the empire. That movie website is here or you can watch it from here. (I will be reviewing the film on Learning from Dogs in the next couple of weeks.)
The filmmakers, Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson, towards the end of the film muse if mankind must go back to some form of hunter-gatherer society, not literally, of course, but ‘back’ to a form of society that is fundamentally sustainable with the world upon which we live. As successful as Neanderthal man. Here’s where dogs may have critically important lessons for mankind.
Dogs form small packs, up to a maximum of 50 animals
They have a simple hierarchy within the pack; the alpha female (who has first choice of breeding male and makes the very big decisions about whether the pack should move to a better territory), the beta male (always a dominant male that teaches the young pups their social skills and breaks up fights within the pack – my Pharaoh, as seen on the home page, is a beta GSD), and the omega dog (the clown dog, male or female. whose role is to keep the pack happy through play).
They survive through an extraordinary relationship with humans but if they have to revert to the ‘wild’ they survive as hunter-gatherers.
Maybe humans, at heart, also share certain similar characteristics:
We are happiest in social groups of less than 50
We much prefer simple methods of group order, where rules and discipline are managed within the group. (Think about how easily we form all sorts of local clubs and groups.)
A ‘local’ approach to survival through deep and extensive group co-operation would be so much more effective than what most of us presently experience in our societies.
That’s why so many of the articles that appear on Learning from Dogs focus on the madness of what we experience so often in our present enormous, faceless, distant societies.
Back to Sally Erickson, one of the film makers mentioned earlier. Here’s what she wrote in her Blog
Our world is in need of healing at every level. We as a species aren’t going to survive, the way we are going. If we don’t heal ourselves, evolve a new consciousness, and fundamentally change the way we live, human beings won’t make it.
Where’s it all heading? Who knows? I am reminded of that wonderful quote attributed to Niels Bohr but, more likely, from an unknown author (although Mark Twain is often suggested), “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”
Happy Birthday, Learning from Dogs. Thank you to all of you that have supported this venture over the last two years.
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.’
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.
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.