Tag: Canis lupus familiaris

A very ancient relationship

My relationship with Pharaoh has echoes of much earlier times.

This is a post that was originally published by Learning from Dogs back in July 2012!

It seemed so fitting to repost it this week. Not only in recognition of my dear Pharaoh’s birthday yesterday, but also in recognition of all the dogs and their loving human companions since time immemorial. What magnificent creatures they are.

oooo

The woof at the Door.

The grandeur of the ancient relationship between dog and man.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article that had been published in American Scientist magazine (online version) written by Professor Pat Shipman.  The article provided the background and evidence to support the proposition that dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized.

Very quickly I came across Pat Shipman’s website and learnt that this is one clever lady. As her About page explains,

CAREER SUMMARY

Prof. Shipman

I am internationally known as a paleoanthropologist and conducted research for many years in Africa on human evolution and the animal communities in which humans evolved.

I have conducted research on material from sites in France, Spain, the United States, Java, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.  I have written more than 50 scholarly articles, appearing in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Paleobiology, Journal of Human Evolution, and Current Anthropology.

I have written more than 100 articles in popular science magazines or newspapers, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, American Scientist, Discover, and Natural History. Two of my books were featured on the cover of The New York Times Book Review: The Neadertals and Taking Wing. Taking Wing won the Phi Beta Kappa prize for science book of the year and was a runner-up for the LA Times Science Book prize.

My book on Homo erectus, Wisdom of the Bones, was co-authored by Alan Walker and won the Rhone-Poulenc Prize in science writing.

My books have been widely praised as compelling, accessible, and highly readable, with a strong narrative thread. Reviewers frequently comment upon the meticulous research that underpins my books, a feature I consider to be my trademark.

My most recent popular science book, The Ape in the Tree, written with Alan Walker, was called by The Vancouver Sun “part adventure story, part cutting-edge science.” In a Science magazine review, the book was praised as “a fine account of new ways to puzzle out the behaviors of fossilized animals from odd scraps of bone.” Another reviewer raved, “Wonderfully engaging and insightful, The Ape in the Tree, is sure to become a classic in the literature on human origins.” MacArthur fellow John Fleagle wrote in the Quarterly Review of Biology, “Science writing doesn’t get any better than this.” In 2009, this book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Prize by the American Anthropological Association.

In Britain, my new biography of Mata Hari, Femme Fatale, was selected as The Book of the Week by BBC radio. Each day during the week, an actress gave dramatic readings from the book on the air for fifteen minutes.

With The Animal Connection, I return to paleoanthropology and consider the influence of our connection with animals on human evolution and the origin of modern human behavior.

See what I mean!

Anyway, as you can readily understand, as the author of a blog that writes about what we can learn from this ancient relationship between the dog and man, it struck me as wonderful if I might be permitted to republish in full that article.  Prof. Shipman promptly gave me such permission.

So today, I am doing just that and tomorrow I want to write more about Pat Shipman’s latest book, The Animal Connection.

ooOOoo

The Woof at the Door

Dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized

Pat Shipman

It’s funny how much difference a single letter makes. A “woof” at the door is a very different thing from a wolf at the door. One is familiar, domestic, reassuring; the other is a frightening apparition of imminent danger. The distinction between our fond companions and the ferocious predator of northern climes goes back a long way.

Dogs are descended from wolves, probably the gray wolf. Some scientists argue that, because dogs and wolves can and do interbreed, they shouldn’t be considered to be separate species at all. They believe that domestic dogs are only a subspecies or variant of the gray wolf, Canis lupus, and ought to be called Canis lupus familiaris (the familiar or domestic wolf) instead of Canis familiaris (the familiar or domestic dog). Although the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring is a tried-and-true criterion for recognizing that two populations are really variants of a single species, the reality is more nuanced. We cannot know whether dog-wolf hybrids will thrive and survive, or die out, in the long run.

Prehistoric cave paintings rarely depict wolves or other carnivores. This watercolor tracing of a cave painting was made by the archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil in the early 1900s from the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume in France. The 17,000-year-old cave paintings number about 250 and mostly show bison and mammoths—only one is thought to be a wolf. Canids may have been domesticated by this point; it is possible that portraying wolves and humans was taboo.
Paul Bahn

Certainly we expect to be able to distinguish a dog from a wolf if we see one. Of course, domestic dogs are wildly variable in size and shape, thanks to several hundred years of selective breeding. Some have long, fluffy coats; others have tightly curled, nearly waterproof coats and webbed feet. Some are leggy and swift, whereas others are solid, stoutly built guard dogs. Some fit neatly into a pocketbook, but others barely fit into a compact car. As Robert K. Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles declares, “Dogs show more diversity in appearance than any other mammal.”

What is it that tells us this animal is “dog” and that one is “wolf?”

Modern wolves and dogs can be distinguished reasonably easily by their appearance. The most telling feature of dogs is the snout, which is significantly shorter and wider than wolves’ snouts. Only a few dog breeds with extremely elongated, slender snouts, such as Irish wolfhounds, surpass wolves in “snoutiness.”

But a crucial part of the difference we perceive is in the animals’ manner and attitude towards humans. Domesticated dogs are just that: canids that live in the house or domicile of humans. They are genetically disposed to seek out human attention and approval and to accept human leadership. Wolves are not.

How did this important change come about? Probably in the distant past, humans took in a wolf cub, or even a whole litter of cubs, and provided shelter, food and protection. As the adopted cubs matured, some were aggressive, ferocious and difficult to handle; those probably ended up in the pot or were cast out. The ones that were more accepting of and more agreeable to humans were kept around longer and fed more. In time, humans might have co-opted the natural abilities of canids, using the dogs’ keen noses and swift running skills, for example, to assist in hunting game. If only the most desirable dogs were permitted to breed, the genes encoding for “better” dogs would continue to be concentrated until the new domesticated species (or subspecies) was formed.

Time to Tame

The creation of a domestic, useful, familiar canid by years of selectively breeding wild and terrifying wolves was almost certainly unplanned. The wolf at the beginning of the process of domestication was tamed—made individually docile—but the essential fact is that, over time, the offspring of those initial wolves were genetically inclined to be more tractable.

Domestication was one of the most brilliant accidents in the entire history of humankind. What’s more, we got it right the first time: Dogs were the original trial animal, and successful product, of such an accident—the happy outcome of years of unwitting experiments and dumb luck.

How long does domestication take? Nobody knows. In an experiment, Russian biologists kept a breeding colony of silver foxes and intentionally selected for breeding those with the least fear and the least aggression toward humans. After 10 generations, 18 percent of the foxes sought human contact and showed little fear. After 30 or so generations, a “domesticated fox” had been created.

The catch is that this experiment was deliberate and strictly controlled. The foxes could not breed with wild foxes and dilute the changing gene pool. Human contact was minimized so animals could not be tamed by their handlers. And because of the experiment’s scientific intent, no one could say, “Oh this one is so cute, let’s let it breed even if it is a little aggressive.” So in the case of dogs, without all these controls, the process could have taken much longer.

Another way of estimating the time at which domestic dogs originated is to consider their genetic differences from wolves. One prominent group of researchers, including Robert Wayne, along with Carles Vilà of the Uppsala University in Sweden and their collaborators, initially estimated in 1997 that dogs diverged from gray wolves 100,000 to 135,000 years ago. After more study, they revised their divergence date to between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago. Another group, led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, favored the Chinese wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, as the probable ancestor and estimated in 2002 that it was domesticated between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

How do these genetic estimates stack up against the fossil record? Until 2009, the oldest known remains of domestic dogs were two adult skulls dated to between 13,000 and 17,000 years ago, from Eliseevichi, a region in Russia. Both had the relatively broad, short snout typical of dogs, and both were large, heavy animals, nearly the size of great Danes.

Then a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences reported a stunning new finding in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science: a nearly complete fossil dog skull dated to 31,680 + 250 years ago.

Another Look

Germonpré and her colleagues thought that researchers might have overlooked early prehistoric dogs in the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic, so they analyzed skulls of large canids (wolves or dogs) from various European sites. The Upper Paleolithic time period spanned 40,000 to 10,000 years ago and is divided into sections based on the artifacts from those times. By convention, each span is named for a culture of people who made the artifacts, and the people, in turn, are usually named for the geographical location where the artifacts were found. The Epigravettian culture existed from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago; before that, the Magdalenian culture thrived from 18,000 to 10,000 years ago; and skipping back a few sections, the Aurignacian culture occurred from 32,000 to 26,000 years ago.

In order to identify the fossil skulls accurately, Germonpré’s team first analyzed a large reference sample of 48 wild, modern wolves and 53 dogs belonging to 11 different breeds. They also examined five skulls (including the ones found in Eliseevichi) that were firmly established as prehistoric domesticated dogs.

In order to establish the morphological differences between wolves and dogs, a group of researchers led by Mietje Germonpré statistically analyzed skulls from 48 modern, wild wolves and 53 modern dogs from 11 breeds, as well as five skulls that were previously established to be from prehistoric dogs. Recent wolves (pink) and prehistoric dogs (blue) clustered into their own groups, based on the length of their toothrows and the shape of their snouts. Modern dogs clustered into four groups, with some overlap in their areas. Recent dogs with archaic proportions included huskies (brown), recent dogs with wolflike snouts included German shepherds (yellow), recent dogs with short toothrows included great Danes (orange), and recent dogs with slender snouts included doberman pinscers (green). One modern dog, a Central Asian shepherd, clustered with the prehistoric dogs. The group then classified new skulls into the established groupings; examples that fell slightly outside of the ranges but that are statistically likely to be within the group are shown as lighter-shaded areas. Recent young wolves fell into the recent-wolf group, whereas wolves kept in captivity were classifed as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Fossil canid skulls divided between the recent-wolf group and the prehistoric-dog group, with one falling in the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts.
Stephanie Freese, data courtesy of Mietje Germonpré.

The team used statistical analysis of cranial and dental measurements on the skulls to sort the reference sample into six natural clusters. One cluster contained modern wolves. Another consisted of recent dogs of archaic proportions (such as chow-chows and huskies); a single specimen of a Central Asian shepherd was closer to this group than any other but fell outside it. A third cluster included dogs, such as German shepherds and malinois, which have wolflike proportions. These three groups overlapped each other in their cranial proportions. A fourth group of modern dogs has short toothrows—the length of the jaw that contains teeth—and includes such breeds as great Danes, mastiffs and rottweilers. This group overlapped slightly with the archaic-proportioned dog group but not with the others.

The fifth and sixth clusters were completely separate from all others. One consisted of dogs with extremely long, slender snouts, such as Doberman pinschers. The final group, which had long toothrows and short, broad snouts, was made up of the prehistoric dogs. Statistically, the team’s ability to identify any individual specimen as belonging to the correct group was highly significant and accurate.

Using these clusters as reference categories, Germonpré and colleagues used a statistical technique (called discriminant function analysis ) to assign 17 unknown fossil canid skulls to the established categories. Not all of the “unknowns” were truly unknown, however. Five were immature modern wolves that might have had different proportions because of their age, two were wolves that had been kept in captivity, and one was the Central Asian shepherd that didn’t cluster into any of the groups. Additional unknowns were 11 fossil skulls from sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia, although two of these fossil skulls proved to be too incomplete to classify.

The technique correctly classified all of the immature wolves as wolves, but the two zoo wolves were classified as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Five of the fossil skulls also fell easily into the modern wolf group; although two of these specimens fell into the region of measurements that overlapped with the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, they had a higher statistical probability of being wolves. One fossil skull fit directly into the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, even though this specimen was clearly ancient.

The remaining three fossil skulls—one from Goyet Cave in Belgium and one each from Mezin and Mezhirich in the Ukraine—resembled each other closely. All three were classified as prehistoric dogs with probabilities of 99 percent, 73 percent and 57 percent, respectively, as was the (modern) Central Asian shepherd, with a 64 percent probability. In addition, the Mezin skull was odd enough in appearance (for a wolf) that another researcher has suggested it might have been a captive wolf. Germonpré and her team were delighted with these results.

The group also successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from seven ancient canid bones from Goyet Cave and Trou des Nutons in Belgium. Rather than damage precious skulls, they sampled only bones in which wolves and dogs differ little, so they presumed all of those they sampled for mtDNA were wolves. From each sample, they sequenced a segment of the mtDNA that is highly variable in living wolves and dogs. Each fossil had a unique mtDNA sequence, or haplotype , in this region, which could not be matched with any known sequences for modern wolves (of which there are about 160) or modern dogs (of which more than 1,000 exist) stored in GenBank, a database of all publicly available nucleotide sequences.

“I was not so surprised at the rich genetic diversity of the fossil wolves,” says Germonpré, because there have been other studies with similar findings. Foxes and wolves underwent a severe bottleneck in population size at the end of the last Ice Age, and many genetic lineages went extinct at this time.

“But we were surprised at the antiquity of the Goyet dog,” Germonpré adds. “We expected it would probably be Magdalenian,” perhaps 18,000 to 10,000 years old. This outcome would fit with their results for the Mezin and Mezhirich skulls, which were found with Epigravettian artifacts roughly 14,000 to 10,000 years old. When the age of this specimen from Goyet was directly dated using accelerated mass spectroscopy radiocarbon-dating techniques, the team found that it was not 18,000 years old, but almost twice as old as the next oldest dog, placing the Goyet dog in the Aurignacian period.

A Time of Change

The Goyet dog fossil shows that the domestication of the first animal was roughly contemporaneous with two fascinating developments in Europe.

Around this time, Europeans began producing objects that are recognizable as art. Some of the earliest known art objects from Europe include the remarkable cave paintings of Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest of which were made 32,900 ± 490 years ago. None of the hundreds of glorious Chauvet paintings show wolves. However, the cave preserves something even more haunting: the footprints of a human child about four-and-a-half feet tall, as well as many footprints of large canids and bears.

Around 33,000 years ago, humans began perforating teeth for use in decoration. Although canid teeth made up a very small percentage of the total fauna teeth available, they were used in a majority of the ornaments. Fangs from foxes and wolves appear to have been favorites. One example of a perforated wolf tooth (shown in two views at right) is from Abri Castanet in France and has been dated to 33,000 years ago. A strand of beads interspersed with fox teeth came from the Russian site of Sungir and has been dated to 24,000 years ago (left). There is no specific evidence that canid teeth were used in necklaces; the fox-teeth strand may have been a belt.
Randall White

Michel-Alain Garcia of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nanterre noticed in 1999 that one track of canid prints appears to accompany the child’s prints. These canid prints, unlike the others, have a shortened middle digit on the front paw: a characteristic of dogs. Garcia suggested that the child and dog might have explored the cave together. Charcoal from a torch the child carried is 26,000 years old.

The Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe are famous for the flowering of all kinds of exquisite art: sculptures, carvings, paintings and engravings. Animals are common and readily recognizable subjects. Prehistoric art expert Paul Bahn notes that depictions of carnivores, including wolves or dogs, and of humans are rare. Bahn conjectures that portraying wolves and humans might have been taboo.

Anne Pike-Tay of Vassar College offers another perspective. She observes that the scarcity of artistic depictions of carnivores parallels their scarcity in the fossil faunas of the Upper Paleolithic. If domesticated dogs were helping humans hunt, she speculates that they might have been placed in a completely different symbolic category from other animals.

“What if dogs were put in the ‘human family’ category as an extension of the hunter, and like humans, warranted no (or very few) painted or engraved depictions?” she wonders.

The second development of the Aurignacian period is the appearance of objects of personal adornment: jewelry. Although beads and perforated objects occurred much earlier in Africa, the earliest such objects in Europe appeared about 40,000 years ago. At 33,000 years ago, early Aurignacian people began perforating animal teeth (and occasionally human teeth) to wear as pendants or other ornaments, such as belts.

Which teeth did they choose? Among their favorite sources are what have been identified as fangs of foxes and wolves. These identifications might better be termed “small or large canids,” because until now no one has considered the possibility that dogs might have been domesticated so long ago. Besides, identifying a single canid tooth specifically as dog or wolf would be difficult, if not impossible.

Randall White of New York University argues that Aurignacian and later people chose to wear objects that displayed their identity or membership in a certain group or clan. Like gang colors or a t-shirt that proclaims its wearer to be a fan of a particular band, ancient people wore things that made their allegiances clear.

Fossils have helped to establish a far earlier timeframe for dog domestication. A paleolithic canid skull from Goyet in Belgium, about 31,000 years old, has traits characteristic of a dog rather than a wolf (a). When compared to wolves from a similar era, one from Trou Ballu (b) and one from Trou des Nutons (c) in France, the Goyet dog has a relatively wider snout and larger carnassial teeth, and it also has a wider braincase.
Elsevier Ltd.

White observes that the teeth Aurignacian people chose to wear were obviously not a random sample of the animals in the fauna. For example, the fauna from the Grotte des Hyènes (Cave of Hyenas) at Brassempouy, France, is dominated by horses, aurochs (a type of cattle) and reindeer—mostly as food remains that often show cutmarks or charring—as well as hyenas, which probably lived in the cave when humans did not. Wolves are rare, making up less than 3 percent of the total fauna. Of approximately 1,600 animal teeth at Brassempouy, only about 2 percent were modified for use as ornaments. However, nearly two-thirds of the ornaments are teeth of wolves or foxes. The rest of the perforated teeth are from other rare species: bear, humans and red deer. None of the teeth of the most common species were used as ornaments at Brassempouy.

Did someone who wore a perforated canid tooth 33,000 years ago proclaim him- or herself to be one of the group that domesticated dogs?

Possibly. Domesticating dogs was a remarkable human achievement that doubtless provided a definite selective advantage to those who accomplished it successfully. They might well have had reason to brag about their accomplishment by wearing canid teeth.

Bibliography

  • Germonpré, M., et al. 2009. Fossil dogs and wolves from Paleolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:473–490.
  • Morey, D. F. 1994. The early evolution of the domestic dog. American Scientist 82:336–347.
  • Ostrander, E. A. 2007. Genetics and the shape of dogs. American Scientist 95:406–413.
  • Savolainen, P., et al. 2002. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science 298:1610–1613.
  • Trut, L. N. 1999. Early canid domestication: The farm-fox experiment. American Scientist 87:160–169.
  • Vilà, C., et al. 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science 276:1687–1689.

© Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

ooOOoo

What a beautiful relationship between dog and man for rather a long time!

A very ancient relationship!

Life, at times, seems to go full circle.

The sub-heading was prompted by me doing research for a writing project. I was doing a google search on the history of the relationship between dogs and humans and top of the returns was a post published by Learning from Dogs back in July 2012! Typically, I had forgotten that post. When I clicked on the link and read it right through, it seemed a brilliant idea to republish it today.

oooo

The woof at the Door.

The grandeur of the ancient relationship between dog and man.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article that had been published in American Scientist magazine (online version) written by Professor Pat Shipman.  The article provided the background and evidence to support the proposition that dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized.

Very quickly I came across Pat Shipman’s website and learnt that this is one clever lady. As her About page explains,

CAREER SUMMARY

Prof. Shipman

I am internationally known as a paleoanthropologist and conducted research for many years in Africa on human evolution and the animal communities in which humans evolved.

I have conducted research on material from sites in France, Spain, the United States, Java, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.  I have written more than 50 scholarly articles, appearing in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Paleobiology, Journal of Human Evolution, and Current Anthropology.

I have written more than 100 articles in popular science magazines or newspapers, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, American Scientist, Discover, and Natural History. Two of my books were featured on the cover of The New York Times Book Review: The Neadertals and Taking Wing. Taking Wing won the Phi Beta Kappa prize for science book of the year and was a runner-up for the LA Times Science Book prize.

My book on Homo erectus, Wisdom of the Bones, was co-authored by Alan Walker and won the Rhone-Poulenc Prize in science writing.

My books have been widely praised as compelling, accessible, and highly readable, with a strong narrative thread. Reviewers frequently comment upon the meticulous research that underpins my books, a feature I consider to be my trademark.

My most recent popular science book, The Ape in the Tree, written with Alan Walker, was called by The Vancouver Sun “part adventure story, part cutting-edge science.” In a Science magazine review, the book was praised as “a fine account of new ways to puzzle out the behaviors of fossilized animals from odd scraps of bone.” Another reviewer raved, “Wonderfully engaging and insightful, The Ape in the Tree, is sure to become a classic in the literature on human origins.” MacArthur fellow John Fleagle wrote in the Quarterly Review of Biology, “Science writing doesn’t get any better than this.” In 2009, this book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Prize by the American Anthropological Association.

In Britain, my new biography of Mata Hari, Femme Fatale, was selected as The Book of the Week by BBC radio. Each day during the week, an actress gave dramatic readings from the book on the air for fifteen minutes.

With The Animal Connection, I return to paleoanthropology and consider the influence of our connection with animals on human evolution and the origin of modern human behavior.

See what I mean!

Anyway, as you can readily understand, as the author of a blog that writes about what we can learn from this ancient relationship between the dog and man, it struck me as wonderful if I might be permitted to republish in full that article.  Prof. Shipman promptly gave me such permission.

So today, I am doing just that and tomorrow I want to write more about Pat Shipman’s latest book, The Animal Connection.

ooOOoo

The Woof at the Door

Dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized

Pat Shipman

It’s funny how much difference a single letter makes. A “woof” at the door is a very different thing from a wolf at the door. One is familiar, domestic, reassuring; the other is a frightening apparition of imminent danger. The distinction between our fond companions and the ferocious predator of northern climes goes back a long way.

Dogs are descended from wolves, probably the gray wolf. Some scientists argue that, because dogs and wolves can and do interbreed, they shouldn’t be considered to be separate species at all. They believe that domestic dogs are only a subspecies or variant of the gray wolf, Canis lupus, and ought to be called Canis lupus familiaris (the familiar or domestic wolf) instead of Canis familiaris (the familiar or domestic dog). Although the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring is a tried-and-true criterion for recognizing that two populations are really variants of a single species, the reality is more nuanced. We cannot know whether dog-wolf hybrids will thrive and survive, or die out, in the long run.

Prehistoric cave paintings rarely depict wolves or other carnivores. This watercolor tracing of a cave painting was made by the archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil in the early 1900s from the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume in France. The 17,000-year-old cave paintings number about 250 and mostly show bison and mammoths—only one is thought to be a wolf. Canids may have been domesticated by this point; it is possible that portraying wolves and humans was taboo.
Paul Bahn

Certainly we expect to be able to distinguish a dog from a wolf if we see one. Of course, domestic dogs are wildly variable in size and shape, thanks to several hundred years of selective breeding. Some have long, fluffy coats; others have tightly curled, nearly waterproof coats and webbed feet. Some are leggy and swift, whereas others are solid, stoutly built guard dogs. Some fit neatly into a pocketbook, but others barely fit into a compact car. As Robert K. Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles declares, “Dogs show more diversity in appearance than any other mammal.”

What is it that tells us this animal is “dog” and that one is “wolf?”

Modern wolves and dogs can be distinguished reasonably easily by their appearance. The most telling feature of dogs is the snout, which is significantly shorter and wider than wolves’ snouts. Only a few dog breeds with extremely elongated, slender snouts, such as Irish wolfhounds, surpass wolves in “snoutiness.”

But a crucial part of the difference we perceive is in the animals’ manner and attitude towards humans. Domesticated dogs are just that: canids that live in the house or domicile of humans. They are genetically disposed to seek out human attention and approval and to accept human leadership. Wolves are not.

How did this important change come about? Probably in the distant past, humans took in a wolf cub, or even a whole litter of cubs, and provided shelter, food and protection. As the adopted cubs matured, some were aggressive, ferocious and difficult to handle; those probably ended up in the pot or were cast out. The ones that were more accepting of and more agreeable to humans were kept around longer and fed more. In time, humans might have co-opted the natural abilities of canids, using the dogs’ keen noses and swift running skills, for example, to assist in hunting game. If only the most desirable dogs were permitted to breed, the genes encoding for “better” dogs would continue to be concentrated until the new domesticated species (or subspecies) was formed.

Time to Tame

The creation of a domestic, useful, familiar canid by years of selectively breeding wild and terrifying wolves was almost certainly unplanned. The wolf at the beginning of the process of domestication was tamed—made individually docile—but the essential fact is that, over time, the offspring of those initial wolves were genetically inclined to be more tractable.

Domestication was one of the most brilliant accidents in the entire history of humankind. What’s more, we got it right the first time: Dogs were the original trial animal, and successful product, of such an accident—the happy outcome of years of unwitting experiments and dumb luck.

How long does domestication take? Nobody knows. In an experiment, Russian biologists kept a breeding colony of silver foxes and intentionally selected for breeding those with the least fear and the least aggression toward humans. After 10 generations, 18 percent of the foxes sought human contact and showed little fear. After 30 or so generations, a “domesticated fox” had been created.

The catch is that this experiment was deliberate and strictly controlled. The foxes could not breed with wild foxes and dilute the changing gene pool. Human contact was minimized so animals could not be tamed by their handlers. And because of the experiment’s scientific intent, no one could say, “Oh this one is so cute, let’s let it breed even if it is a little aggressive.” So in the case of dogs, without all these controls, the process could have taken much longer.

Another way of estimating the time at which domestic dogs originated is to consider their genetic differences from wolves. One prominent group of researchers, including Robert Wayne, along with Carles Vilà of the Uppsala University in Sweden and their collaborators, initially estimated in 1997 that dogs diverged from gray wolves 100,000 to 135,000 years ago. After more study, they revised their divergence date to between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago. Another group, led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, favored the Chinese wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, as the probable ancestor and estimated in 2002 that it was domesticated between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

How do these genetic estimates stack up against the fossil record? Until 2009, the oldest known remains of domestic dogs were two adult skulls dated to between 13,000 and 17,000 years ago, from Eliseevichi, a region in Russia. Both had the relatively broad, short snout typical of dogs, and both were large, heavy animals, nearly the size of great Danes.

Then a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences reported a stunning new finding in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science: a nearly complete fossil dog skull dated to 31,680 + 250 years ago.

Another Look

Germonpré and her colleagues thought that researchers might have overlooked early prehistoric dogs in the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic, so they analyzed skulls of large canids (wolves or dogs) from various European sites. The Upper Paleolithic time period spanned 40,000 to 10,000 years ago and is divided into sections based on the artifacts from those times. By convention, each span is named for a culture of people who made the artifacts, and the people, in turn, are usually named for the geographical location where the artifacts were found. The Epigravettian culture existed from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago; before that, the Magdalenian culture thrived from 18,000 to 10,000 years ago; and skipping back a few sections, the Aurignacian culture occurred from 32,000 to 26,000 years ago.

In order to identify the fossil skulls accurately, Germonpré’s team first analyzed a large reference sample of 48 wild, modern wolves and 53 dogs belonging to 11 different breeds. They also examined five skulls (including the ones found in Eliseevichi) that were firmly established as prehistoric domesticated dogs.

In order to establish the morphological differences between wolves and dogs, a group of researchers led by Mietje Germonpré statistically analyzed skulls from 48 modern, wild wolves and 53 modern dogs from 11 breeds, as well as five skulls that were previously established to be from prehistoric dogs. Recent wolves (pink) and prehistoric dogs (blue) clustered into their own groups, based on the length of their toothrows and the shape of their snouts. Modern dogs clustered into four groups, with some overlap in their areas. Recent dogs with archaic proportions included huskies (brown), recent dogs with wolflike snouts included German shepherds (yellow), recent dogs with short toothrows included great Danes (orange), and recent dogs with slender snouts included doberman pinscers (green). One modern dog, a Central Asian shepherd, clustered with the prehistoric dogs. The group then classified new skulls into the established groupings; examples that fell slightly outside of the ranges but that are statistically likely to be within the group are shown as lighter-shaded areas. Recent young wolves fell into the recent-wolf group, whereas wolves kept in captivity were classifed as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Fossil canid skulls divided between the recent-wolf group and the prehistoric-dog group, with one falling in the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts.
Stephanie Freese, data courtesy of Mietje Germonpré.

The team used statistical analysis of cranial and dental measurements on the skulls to sort the reference sample into six natural clusters. One cluster contained modern wolves. Another consisted of recent dogs of archaic proportions (such as chow-chows and huskies); a single specimen of a Central Asian shepherd was closer to this group than any other but fell outside it. A third cluster included dogs, such as German shepherds and malinois, which have wolflike proportions. These three groups overlapped each other in their cranial proportions. A fourth group of modern dogs has short toothrows—the length of the jaw that contains teeth—and includes such breeds as great Danes, mastiffs and rottweilers. This group overlapped slightly with the archaic-proportioned dog group but not with the others.

The fifth and sixth clusters were completely separate from all others. One consisted of dogs with extremely long, slender snouts, such as Doberman pinschers. The final group, which had long toothrows and short, broad snouts, was made up of the prehistoric dogs. Statistically, the team’s ability to identify any individual specimen as belonging to the correct group was highly significant and accurate.

Using these clusters as reference categories, Germonpré and colleagues used a statistical technique (called discriminant function analysis ) to assign 17 unknown fossil canid skulls to the established categories. Not all of the “unknowns” were truly unknown, however. Five were immature modern wolves that might have had different proportions because of their age, two were wolves that had been kept in captivity, and one was the Central Asian shepherd that didn’t cluster into any of the groups. Additional unknowns were 11 fossil skulls from sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia, although two of these fossil skulls proved to be too incomplete to classify.

The technique correctly classified all of the immature wolves as wolves, but the two zoo wolves were classified as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Five of the fossil skulls also fell easily into the modern wolf group; although two of these specimens fell into the region of measurements that overlapped with the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, they had a higher statistical probability of being wolves. One fossil skull fit directly into the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, even though this specimen was clearly ancient.

The remaining three fossil skulls—one from Goyet Cave in Belgium and one each from Mezin and Mezhirich in the Ukraine—resembled each other closely. All three were classified as prehistoric dogs with probabilities of 99 percent, 73 percent and 57 percent, respectively, as was the (modern) Central Asian shepherd, with a 64 percent probability. In addition, the Mezin skull was odd enough in appearance (for a wolf) that another researcher has suggested it might have been a captive wolf. Germonpré and her team were delighted with these results.

The group also successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from seven ancient canid bones from Goyet Cave and Trou des Nutons in Belgium. Rather than damage precious skulls, they sampled only bones in which wolves and dogs differ little, so they presumed all of those they sampled for mtDNA were wolves. From each sample, they sequenced a segment of the mtDNA that is highly variable in living wolves and dogs. Each fossil had a unique mtDNA sequence, or haplotype , in this region, which could not be matched with any known sequences for modern wolves (of which there are about 160) or modern dogs (of which more than 1,000 exist) stored in GenBank, a database of all publicly available nucleotide sequences.

“I was not so surprised at the rich genetic diversity of the fossil wolves,” says Germonpré, because there have been other studies with similar findings. Foxes and wolves underwent a severe bottleneck in population size at the end of the last Ice Age, and many genetic lineages went extinct at this time.

“But we were surprised at the antiquity of the Goyet dog,” Germonpré adds. “We expected it would probably be Magdalenian,” perhaps 18,000 to 10,000 years old. This outcome would fit with their results for the Mezin and Mezhirich skulls, which were found with Epigravettian artifacts roughly 14,000 to 10,000 years old. When the age of this specimen from Goyet was directly dated using accelerated mass spectroscopy radiocarbon-dating techniques, the team found that it was not 18,000 years old, but almost twice as old as the next oldest dog, placing the Goyet dog in the Aurignacian period.

A Time of Change

The Goyet dog fossil shows that the domestication of the first animal was roughly contemporaneous with two fascinating developments in Europe.

Around this time, Europeans began producing objects that are recognizable as art. Some of the earliest known art objects from Europe include the remarkable cave paintings of Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest of which were made 32,900 ± 490 years ago. None of the hundreds of glorious Chauvet paintings show wolves. However, the cave preserves something even more haunting: the footprints of a human child about four-and-a-half feet tall, as well as many footprints of large canids and bears.

Around 33,000 years ago, humans began perforating teeth for use in decoration. Although canid teeth made up a very small percentage of the total fauna teeth available, they were used in a majority of the ornaments. Fangs from foxes and wolves appear to have been favorites. One example of a perforated wolf tooth (shown in two views at right) is from Abri Castanet in France and has been dated to 33,000 years ago. A strand of beads interspersed with fox teeth came from the Russian site of Sungir and has been dated to 24,000 years ago (left). There is no specific evidence that canid teeth were used in necklaces; the fox-teeth strand may have been a belt.
Randall White

Michel-Alain Garcia of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nanterre noticed in 1999 that one track of canid prints appears to accompany the child’s prints. These canid prints, unlike the others, have a shortened middle digit on the front paw: a characteristic of dogs. Garcia suggested that the child and dog might have explored the cave together. Charcoal from a torch the child carried is 26,000 years old.

The Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe are famous for the flowering of all kinds of exquisite art: sculptures, carvings, paintings and engravings. Animals are common and readily recognizable subjects. Prehistoric art expert Paul Bahn notes that depictions of carnivores, including wolves or dogs, and of humans are rare. Bahn conjectures that portraying wolves and humans might have been taboo.

Anne Pike-Tay of Vassar College offers another perspective. She observes that the scarcity of artistic depictions of carnivores parallels their scarcity in the fossil faunas of the Upper Paleolithic. If domesticated dogs were helping humans hunt, she speculates that they might have been placed in a completely different symbolic category from other animals.

“What if dogs were put in the ‘human family’ category as an extension of the hunter, and like humans, warranted no (or very few) painted or engraved depictions?” she wonders.

The second development of the Aurignacian period is the appearance of objects of personal adornment: jewelry. Although beads and perforated objects occurred much earlier in Africa, the earliest such objects in Europe appeared about 40,000 years ago. At 33,000 years ago, early Aurignacian people began perforating animal teeth (and occasionally human teeth) to wear as pendants or other ornaments, such as belts.

Which teeth did they choose? Among their favorite sources are what have been identified as fangs of foxes and wolves. These identifications might better be termed “small or large canids,” because until now no one has considered the possibility that dogs might have been domesticated so long ago. Besides, identifying a single canid tooth specifically as dog or wolf would be difficult, if not impossible.

Randall White of New York University argues that Aurignacian and later people chose to wear objects that displayed their identity or membership in a certain group or clan. Like gang colors or a t-shirt that proclaims its wearer to be a fan of a particular band, ancient people wore things that made their allegiances clear.

Fossils have helped to establish a far earlier timeframe for dog domestication. A paleolithic canid skull from Goyet in Belgium, about 31,000 years old, has traits characteristic of a dog rather than a wolf (a). When compared to wolves from a similar era, one from Trou Ballu (b) and one from Trou des Nutons (c) in France, the Goyet dog has a relatively wider snout and larger carnassial teeth, and it also has a wider braincase.
Elsevier Ltd.

White observes that the teeth Aurignacian people chose to wear were obviously not a random sample of the animals in the fauna. For example, the fauna from the Grotte des Hyènes (Cave of Hyenas) at Brassempouy, France, is dominated by horses, aurochs (a type of cattle) and reindeer—mostly as food remains that often show cutmarks or charring—as well as hyenas, which probably lived in the cave when humans did not. Wolves are rare, making up less than 3 percent of the total fauna. Of approximately 1,600 animal teeth at Brassempouy, only about 2 percent were modified for use as ornaments. However, nearly two-thirds of the ornaments are teeth of wolves or foxes. The rest of the perforated teeth are from other rare species: bear, humans and red deer. None of the teeth of the most common species were used as ornaments at Brassempouy.

Did someone who wore a perforated canid tooth 33,000 years ago proclaim him- or herself to be one of the group that domesticated dogs?

Possibly. Domesticating dogs was a remarkable human achievement that doubtless provided a definite selective advantage to those who accomplished it successfully. They might well have had reason to brag about their accomplishment by wearing canid teeth.

Bibliography

  • Germonpré, M., et al. 2009. Fossil dogs and wolves from Paleolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:473–490.
  • Morey, D. F. 1994. The early evolution of the domestic dog. American Scientist 82:336–347.
  • Ostrander, E. A. 2007. Genetics and the shape of dogs. American Scientist 95:406–413.
  • Savolainen, P., et al. 2002. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science 298:1610–1613.
  • Trut, L. N. 1999. Early canid domestication: The farm-fox experiment. American Scientist 87:160–169.
  • Vilà, C., et al. 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science 276:1687–1689.

© Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

ooOOoo

What amazing animals they are and what a beautiful relationship between dog and man. For rather a long time!

It really is a very simple message!

Repeat after me: We are of this planet!  It’s really very simple!

There are times when I look back at my writings on Learning from Dogs, now well over 1,500 posts (1,633 as of today, to be anal about it!) and ponder if the fundamental message behind the name of the blog often gets overlooked.  The Welcome page states:

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Elsewhere on the blog, I underpin that proposition by listing the attributes of dogs:

Dogs:

  • are integrous ( a score of 210) according to Dr David Hawkins
  • don’t cheat or lie
  • don’t have hidden agendas
  • are loyal and faithful
  • forgive
  • love unconditionally
  • value and cherish the ‘present’ in a way that humans can only dream of achieving
  • are, by eons of time, a more successful species than man.

Now this is all fine and dandy but of what relevance is this to the mess that homo sapiens now finds itself in? Two parts to that answer come to mind.

The first part is that watching a dog out in the open countryside quickly brings home the fact that these animals are part of nature and, if push comes to shove, can live in the wild and fend for themselves.  Not saying that a domestic dog would enjoy the experience but that their wild dog and grey wolf roots still rest somewhere in a dog’s consciousness.

The second part of the answer is that all animals instinctively live in harmony, in balance, with their surroundings; with their environment.

For the incredibly obvious reason that dogs, as with all other animal species, are an evolutionary consequence of the natural history of Planet Earth.  That evolutionary journey from the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) part of the Canidae family, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  That journey all the way to the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris).

That ancient journey where the African wild dog (Lycaon pictuspainted dog) came together with early man. No one knows when but the African wild dog was certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago!

Two vastly different natural species, dog and man, evolving compatibly with each other for so many thousands of years.

Back to the attributes of dogs, in particular a dog’s ability to cherish the present.  Earlier this week I was chatting with Kevin Dick, friend from Payson, AZ days, about the ‘interesting’ times we are living in.  Kevin thought there was a significant difference between the generations born in the 1940’s and 1950’s and those born in later times.  Most people over the age of, say 55, were brought up to save for ‘a rainy day’ and, possibly, be able to leave a legacy to their offspring.  Kevin then went on to reflect that more recent generations exhibit a ‘buy today, don’t delay’ mentality.

A by-product of this materialistic instant gratification approach is that the whole damn consumer machine has created a total disconnect with the fact that we humans are of this planet.

The earth is the mother of all people..

(Chief Joseph 1840 – 1904, leader of the Wallowa band, a Native American tribe

indigenous to the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon)

Humans today fail to comprehend this fundamental fact: Our ability to harm the planet and think that it won’t affect our species is complete madness!  If only we could learn how to cherish the present in the way that our dogs do!

I’m now going to offer an essay from John Hurlburt.  I knew John had written this essay but didn’t get round to reading it properly until I had finished the introduction above.  I’m blown away by the resonance between the two but, as always, John’s words are so much more eloquent.

Inside Out

Climate change, religion, economics, government, politics and social issues are topics which create strong personal opinions and cultural divisions. We have difficulty accepting ideas which may conflict with our personal understandings. As usual, it’s an ego thing. The arrogance of our species is inclusive. We all suffer the consequences.

To counter our ego, we know that everything fits together. We exist in a unified cosmos with fluctuations and diversities that emerge around and through us.

Our present transformative state is as a biological form of energy and matter which possesses a conscious awareness of the natural order. We choose to ignore or deny the essential nature of our being at our own peril. Do we live only for the moment or do we live to insure our species future? That’s our fundamental choice.

Seek the truth and identify the common good.” Zoroaster [also known as Zarathustra, Ed.]

We are a consciously aware component of a living world in an isolated corner of a remote galaxy. Everything within and on the earth has an extraterrestrial origin. We live on an incubator we call the earth. We rarely truly communicate with or fully understand the energy of nature in our lives. Our critical thinking ability has become enveloped by an electronic cloud.

We generally agree that the actions of many religions and most politics are based upon short term human interests rather than upon the long term well being of our planet and its disappearing life forms. The fact is that we only began to emerge as a species about 100,000 years ago. Hubble telescope observations have dated our universal origin to roughly 13,002,000,000 years ago.

Could it be that we only imagine ourselves as independent beings? Could it be that beyond the mind games we play there is a vast reality greater that we can understand with our limited sensory apparatus and our finite minds?

Life is a transformative experience. All species, tribes, races and genders are united by the nature of life. We pass through a period of being selfish and ambitious during our journey. Many of us choose to move into these familiar ruts and furnish them. We do not always walk the way we talk.

Nature favors species which adapt to constant change in an emerging universe.

If we agree that our intelligence is judged by choices we make, there is some question about intelligent human life on earth. A recent Harvard University study of species in relation to change estimates that the life span of the human species is approximately 100,000 years. Sound familiar?

The wisdom of our brief human history tells us that we are on a careless and needless path to self destruction. All that’s necessary to verify this assertion is to turn on the news of the day. The systemic paradigm that has been imprinted on our psyches is in constant flux. As we live and learn, we realize that our purpose is to leave life better than we found it.

A delicate balance is necessary to maintain an even strain of faith in the natural process rather than dwelling upon our self centered fears of losing something we imagine we own or not attaining something we believe we want. The earth heals itself from the inside out. We can do the same as a species. Today is the tomorrow we dreamed of yesterday. What have we done to fulfill the true purpose of our lives?

an old lamplighter

So, yes, we have much to learn from dogs.

I will close as I started. We are of this planet!  It’s really very simple!

The Woof at the Door

The grandeur of the ancient relationship between dog and man.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article that had been published in American Scientist magazine (online version) written by Professor Pat Shipman.  The article provided the background and evidence to support the proposition that dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized.

Very quickly I came across Pat Shipman’s website and learnt that this is one clever lady. As her About page explains,

CAREER SUMMARY

Prof. Shipman

I am internationally known as a paleoanthropologist and conducted research for many years in Africa on human evolution and the animal communities in which humans evolved.

I have conducted research on material from sites in France, Spain, the United States, Java, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.  I have written more than 50 scholarly articles, appearing in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Paleobiology, Journal of Human Evolution, and Current Anthropology.

I have written more than 100 articles in popular science magazines or newspapers, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, American Scientist, Discover, and Natural History. Two of my books were featured on the cover of The New York Times Book Review: The Neadertals and Taking Wing. Taking Wing won the Phi Beta Kappa prize for science book of the year and was a runner-up for the LA Times Science Book prize.

My book on Homo erectus, Wisdom of the Bones, was co-authored by Alan Walker and won the Rhone-Poulenc Prize in science writing.

My books have been widely praised as compelling, accessible, and highly readable, with a strong narrative thread. Reviewers frequently comment upon the meticulous research that underpins my books, a feature I consider to be my trademark.

My most recent popular science book, The Ape in the Tree, written with Alan Walker, was called by The Vancouver Sun “part adventure story, part cutting-edge science.” In a Science magazine review, the book was praised as “a fine account of new ways to puzzle out the behaviors of fossilized animals from odd scraps of bone.” Another reviewer raved, “Wonderfully engaging and insightful, The Ape in the Tree, is sure to become a classic in the literature on human origins.” MacArthur fellow John Fleagle wrote in the Quarterly Review of Biology, “Science writing doesn’t get any better than this.” In 2009, this book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Prize by the American Anthropological Association.

In Britain, my new biography of Mata Hari, Femme Fatale, was selected as The Book of the Week by BBC radio. Each day during the week, an actress gave dramatic readings from the book on the air for fifteen minutes.

With The Animal Connection, I return to paleoanthropology and consider the influence of our connection with animals on human evolution and the origin of modern human behavior.

See what I mean!

Anyway, as you can readily understand, as the author of a blog that writes about what we can learn from this ancient relationship between the dog and man, it struck me as wonderful if I might be permitted to republish in full that article.  Prof. Shipman promptly gave me such permission.

So today, I am doing just that and tomorrow I want to write more about Pat Shipman’s latest book, The Animal Connection.

oooOOOooo

The Woof at the Door

Dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized

Pat Shipman

It’s funny how much difference a single letter makes. A “woof” at the door is a very different thing from a wolf at the door. One is familiar, domestic, reassuring; the other is a frightening apparition of imminent danger. The distinction between our fond companions and the ferocious predator of northern climes goes back a long way.

Dogs are descended from wolves, probably the gray wolf. Some scientists argue that, because dogs and wolves can and do interbreed, they shouldn’t be considered to be separate species at all. They believe that domestic dogs are only a subspecies or variant of the gray wolf, Canis lupus, and ought to be called Canis lupus familiaris (the familiar or domestic wolf) instead of Canis familiaris (the familiar or domestic dog). Although the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring is a tried-and-true criterion for recognizing that two populations are really variants of a single species, the reality is more nuanced. We cannot know whether dog-wolf hybrids will thrive and survive, or die out, in the long run.

Prehistoric cave paintings rarely depict wolves or other carnivores. This watercolor tracing of a cave painting was made by the archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil in the early 1900s from the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume in France. The 17,000-year-old cave paintings number about 250 and mostly show bison and mammoths—only one is thought to be a wolf. Canids may have been domesticated by this point; it is possible that portraying wolves and humans was taboo.
Paul Bahn

Certainly we expect to be able to distinguish a dog from a wolf if we see one. Of course, domestic dogs are wildly variable in size and shape, thanks to several hundred years of selective breeding. Some have long, fluffy coats; others have tightly curled, nearly waterproof coats and webbed feet. Some are leggy and swift, whereas others are solid, stoutly built guard dogs. Some fit neatly into a pocketbook, but others barely fit into a compact car. As Robert K. Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles declares, “Dogs show more diversity in appearance than any other mammal.”

What is it that tells us this animal is “dog” and that one is “wolf?”

Modern wolves and dogs can be distinguished reasonably easily by their appearance. The most telling feature of dogs is the snout, which is significantly shorter and wider than wolves’ snouts. Only a few dog breeds with extremely elongated, slender snouts, such as Irish wolfhounds, surpass wolves in “snoutiness.”

But a crucial part of the difference we perceive is in the animals’ manner and attitude towards humans. Domesticated dogs are just that: canids that live in the house or domicile of humans. They are genetically disposed to seek out human attention and approval and to accept human leadership. Wolves are not.

How did this important change come about? Probably in the distant past, humans took in a wolf cub, or even a whole litter of cubs, and provided shelter, food and protection. As the adopted cubs matured, some were aggressive, ferocious and difficult to handle; those probably ended up in the pot or were cast out. The ones that were more accepting of and more agreeable to humans were kept around longer and fed more. In time, humans might have co-opted the natural abilities of canids, using the dogs’ keen noses and swift running skills, for example, to assist in hunting game. If only the most desirable dogs were permitted to breed, the genes encoding for “better” dogs would continue to be concentrated until the new domesticated species (or subspecies) was formed.

Time to Tame

The creation of a domestic, useful, familiar canid by years of selectively breeding wild and terrifying wolves was almost certainly unplanned. The wolf at the beginning of the process of domestication was tamed—made individually docile—but the essential fact is that, over time, the offspring of those initial wolves were genetically inclined to be more tractable.

Domestication was one of the most brilliant accidents in the entire history of humankind. What’s more, we got it right the first time: Dogs were the original trial animal, and successful product, of such an accident—the happy outcome of years of unwitting experiments and dumb luck.

How long does domestication take? Nobody knows. In an experiment, Russian biologists kept a breeding colony of silver foxes and intentionally selected for breeding those with the least fear and the least aggression toward humans. After 10 generations, 18 percent of the foxes sought human contact and showed little fear. After 30 or so generations, a “domesticated fox” had been created.

The catch is that this experiment was deliberate and strictly controlled. The foxes could not breed with wild foxes and dilute the changing gene pool. Human contact was minimized so animals could not be tamed by their handlers. And because of the experiment’s scientific intent, no one could say, “Oh this one is so cute, let’s let it breed even if it is a little aggressive.” So in the case of dogs, without all these controls, the process could have taken much longer.

Another way of estimating the time at which domestic dogs originated is to consider their genetic differences from wolves. One prominent group of researchers, including Robert Wayne, along with Carles Vilà of the Uppsala University in Sweden and their collaborators, initially estimated in 1997 that dogs diverged from gray wolves 100,000 to 135,000 years ago. After more study, they revised their divergence date to between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago. Another group, led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, favored the Chinese wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, as the probable ancestor and estimated in 2002 that it was domesticated between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

How do these genetic estimates stack up against the fossil record? Until 2009, the oldest known remains of domestic dogs were two adult skulls dated to between 13,000 and 17,000 years ago, from Eliseevichi, a region in Russia. Both had the relatively broad, short snout typical of dogs, and both were large, heavy animals, nearly the size of great Danes.

Then a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences reported a stunning new finding in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science: a nearly complete fossil dog skull dated to 31,680 + 250 years ago.

Another Look

Germonpré and her colleagues thought that researchers might have overlooked early prehistoric dogs in the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic, so they analyzed skulls of large canids (wolves or dogs) from various European sites. The Upper Paleolithic time period spanned 40,000 to 10,000 years ago and is divided into sections based on the artifacts from those times. By convention, each span is named for a culture of people who made the artifacts, and the people, in turn, are usually named for the geographical location where the artifacts were found. The Epigravettian culture existed from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago; before that, the Magdalenian culture thrived from 18,000 to 10,000 years ago; and skipping back a few sections, the Aurignacian culture occurred from 32,000 to 26,000 years ago.

In order to identify the fossil skulls accurately, Germonpré’s team first analyzed a large reference sample of 48 wild, modern wolves and 53 dogs belonging to 11 different breeds. They also examined five skulls (including the ones found in Eliseevichi) that were firmly established as prehistoric domesticated dogs.

In order to establish the morphological differences between wolves and dogs, a group of researchers led by Mietje Germonpré statistically analyzed skulls from 48 modern, wild wolves and 53 modern dogs from 11 breeds, as well as five skulls that were previously established to be from prehistoric dogs. Recent wolves (pink) and prehistoric dogs (blue) clustered into their own groups, based on the length of their toothrows and the shape of their snouts. Modern dogs clustered into four groups, with some overlap in their areas. Recent dogs with archaic proportions included huskies (brown), recent dogs with wolflike snouts included German shepherds (yellow), recent dogs with short toothrows included great Danes (orange), and recent dogs with slender snouts included doberman pinscers (green). One modern dog, a Central Asian shepherd, clustered with the prehistoric dogs. The group then classified new skulls into the established groupings; examples that fell slightly outside of the ranges but that are statistically likely to be within the group are shown as lighter-shaded areas. Recent young wolves fell into the recent-wolf group, whereas wolves kept in captivity were classifed as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Fossil canid skulls divided between the recent-wolf group and the prehistoric-dog group, with one falling in the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts.
Stephanie Freese, data courtesy of Mietje Germonpré.

The team used statistical analysis of cranial and dental measurements on the skulls to sort the reference sample into six natural clusters. One cluster contained modern wolves. Another consisted of recent dogs of archaic proportions (such as chow-chows and huskies); a single specimen of a Central Asian shepherd was closer to this group than any other but fell outside it. A third cluster included dogs, such as German shepherds and malinois, which have wolflike proportions. These three groups overlapped each other in their cranial proportions. A fourth group of modern dogs has short toothrows—the length of the jaw that contains teeth—and includes such breeds as great Danes, mastiffs and rottweilers. This group overlapped slightly with the archaic-proportioned dog group but not with the others.

The fifth and sixth clusters were completely separate from all others. One consisted of dogs with extremely long, slender snouts, such as Doberman pinschers. The final group, which had long toothrows and short, broad snouts, was made up of the prehistoric dogs. Statistically, the team’s ability to identify any individual specimen as belonging to the correct group was highly significant and accurate.

Using these clusters as reference categories, Germonpré and colleagues used a statistical technique (called discriminant function analysis ) to assign 17 unknown fossil canid skulls to the established categories. Not all of the “unknowns” were truly unknown, however. Five were immature modern wolves that might have had different proportions because of their age, two were wolves that had been kept in captivity, and one was the Central Asian shepherd that didn’t cluster into any of the groups. Additional unknowns were 11 fossil skulls from sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia, although two of these fossil skulls proved to be too incomplete to classify.

The technique correctly classified all of the immature wolves as wolves, but the two zoo wolves were classified as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Five of the fossil skulls also fell easily into the modern wolf group; although two of these specimens fell into the region of measurements that overlapped with the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, they had a higher statistical probability of being wolves. One fossil skull fit directly into the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, even though this specimen was clearly ancient.

The remaining three fossil skulls—one from Goyet Cave in Belgium and one each from Mezin and Mezhirich in the Ukraine—resembled each other closely. All three were classified as prehistoric dogs with probabilities of 99 percent, 73 percent and 57 percent, respectively, as was the (modern) Central Asian shepherd, with a 64 percent probability. In addition, the Mezin skull was odd enough in appearance (for a wolf) that another researcher has suggested it might have been a captive wolf. Germonpré and her team were delighted with these results.

The group also successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from seven ancient canid bones from Goyet Cave and Trou des Nutons in Belgium. Rather than damage precious skulls, they sampled only bones in which wolves and dogs differ little, so they presumed all of those they sampled for mtDNA were wolves. From each sample, they sequenced a segment of the mtDNA that is highly variable in living wolves and dogs. Each fossil had a unique mtDNA sequence, or haplotype , in this region, which could not be matched with any known sequences for modern wolves (of which there are about 160) or modern dogs (of which more than 1,000 exist) stored in GenBank, a database of all publicly available nucleotide sequences.

“I was not so surprised at the rich genetic diversity of the fossil wolves,” says Germonpré, because there have been other studies with similar findings. Foxes and wolves underwent a severe bottleneck in population size at the end of the last Ice Age, and many genetic lineages went extinct at this time.

“But we were surprised at the antiquity of the Goyet dog,” Germonpré adds. “We expected it would probably be Magdalenian,” perhaps 18,000 to 10,000 years old. This outcome would fit with their results for the Mezin and Mezhirich skulls, which were found with Epigravettian artifacts roughly 14,000 to 10,000 years old. When the age of this specimen from Goyet was directly dated using accelerated mass spectroscopy radiocarbon-dating techniques, the team found that it was not 18,000 years old, but almost twice as old as the next oldest dog, placing the Goyet dog in the Aurignacian period.

A Time of Change

The Goyet dog fossil shows that the domestication of the first animal was roughly contemporaneous with two fascinating developments in Europe.

Around this time, Europeans began producing objects that are recognizable as art. Some of the earliest known art objects from Europe include the remarkable cave paintings of Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest of which were made 32,900 ± 490 years ago. None of the hundreds of glorious Chauvet paintings show wolves. However, the cave preserves something even more haunting: the footprints of a human child about four-and-a-half feet tall, as well as many footprints of large canids and bears.

Around 33,000 years ago, humans began perforating teeth for use in decoration. Although canid teeth made up a very small percentage of the total fauna teeth available, they were used in a majority of the ornaments. Fangs from foxes and wolves appear to have been favorites. One example of a perforated wolf tooth (shown in two views at right) is from Abri Castanet in France and has been dated to 33,000 years ago. A strand of beads interspersed with fox teeth came from the Russian site of Sungir and has been dated to 24,000 years ago (left). There is no specific evidence that canid teeth were used in necklaces; the fox-teeth strand may have been a belt.
Randall White

Michel-Alain Garcia of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nanterre noticed in 1999 that one track of canid prints appears to accompany the child’s prints. These canid prints, unlike the others, have a shortened middle digit on the front paw: a characteristic of dogs. Garcia suggested that the child and dog might have explored the cave together. Charcoal from a torch the child carried is 26,000 years old.

The Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe are famous for the flowering of all kinds of exquisite art: sculptures, carvings, paintings and engravings. Animals are common and readily recognizable subjects. Prehistoric art expert Paul Bahn notes that depictions of carnivores, including wolves or dogs, and of humans are rare. Bahn conjectures that portraying wolves and humans might have been taboo.

Anne Pike-Tay of Vassar College offers another perspective. She observes that the scarcity of artistic depictions of carnivores parallels their scarcity in the fossil faunas of the Upper Paleolithic. If domesticated dogs were helping humans hunt, she speculates that they might have been placed in a completely different symbolic category from other animals.

“What if dogs were put in the ‘human family’ category as an extension of the hunter, and like humans, warranted no (or very few) painted or engraved depictions?” she wonders.

The second development of the Aurignacian period is the appearance of objects of personal adornment: jewelry. Although beads and perforated objects occurred much earlier in Africa, the earliest such objects in Europe appeared about 40,000 years ago. At 33,000 years ago, early Aurignacian people began perforating animal teeth (and occasionally human teeth) to wear as pendants or other ornaments, such as belts.

Which teeth did they choose? Among their favorite sources are what have been identified as fangs of foxes and wolves. These identifications might better be termed “small or large canids,” because until now no one has considered the possibility that dogs might have been domesticated so long ago. Besides, identifying a single canid tooth specifically as dog or wolf would be difficult, if not impossible.

Randall White of New York University argues that Aurignacian and later people chose to wear objects that displayed their identity or membership in a certain group or clan. Like gang colors or a t-shirt that proclaims its wearer to be a fan of a particular band, ancient people wore things that made their allegiances clear.

Fossils have helped to establish a far earlier timeframe for dog domestication. A paleolithic canid skull from Goyet in Belgium, about 31,000 years old, has traits characteristic of a dog rather than a wolf (a). When compared to wolves from a similar era, one from Trou Ballu (b) and one from Trou des Nutons (c) in France, the Goyet dog has a relatively wider snout and larger carnassial teeth, and it also has a wider braincase.
Elsevier Ltd.

White observes that the teeth Aurignacian people chose to wear were obviously not a random sample of the animals in the fauna. For example, the fauna from the Grotte des Hyènes (Cave of Hyenas) at Brassempouy, France, is dominated by horses, aurochs (a type of cattle) and reindeer—mostly as food remains that often show cutmarks or charring—as well as hyenas, which probably lived in the cave when humans did not. Wolves are rare, making up less than 3 percent of the total fauna. Of approximately 1,600 animal teeth at Brassempouy, only about 2 percent were modified for use as ornaments. However, nearly two-thirds of the ornaments are teeth of wolves or foxes. The rest of the perforated teeth are from other rare species: bear, humans and red deer. None of the teeth of the most common species were used as ornaments at Brassempouy.

Did someone who wore a perforated canid tooth 33,000 years ago proclaim him- or herself to be one of the group that domesticated dogs?

Possibly. Domesticating dogs was a remarkable human achievement that doubtless provided a definite selective advantage to those who accomplished it successfully. They might well have had reason to brag about their accomplishment by wearing canid teeth.

Bibliography

  • Germonpré, M., et al. 2009. Fossil dogs and wolves from Paleolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:473–490.
  • Morey, D. F. 1994. The early evolution of the domestic dog. American Scientist 82:336–347.
  • Ostrander, E. A. 2007. Genetics and the shape of dogs. American Scientist 95:406–413.
  • Savolainen, P., et al. 2002. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science 298:1610–1613.
  • Trut, L. N. 1999. Early canid domestication: The farm-fox experiment. American Scientist 87:160–169.
  • Vilà, C., et al. 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science 276:1687–1689.

© Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

 

The evolution of the domestic dog

Some recent published research shows just how far back goes man’s relationship with the domesticated dog!

First, a big thank you to Merci O. who originally sent me the link to the item that I will refer to later on.  But first, a recap as to the origins of this Blog Learning from Dogs.

Dr David Hawkins of Veritas Publishing, Sedona, Arizona.

Way back in 2007 I was working with a good friend of mine who lives in SW England who, professionally, makes good use of the philosophies of Dr. David Hawkins.  David Hawkins has written a number of books including Truth vs Falsehood: How to Tell the Difference which I read a few years ago and found very convincing.  Here’s how Amazon describes the book,

The exploration into the truth of man’s activities is unique, intriguing, and provocative. From a new perspective, one quickly grasps the levels of truth expressed by the media, the arts, writers, painters, architecture, movies, TV, politics, and war, as well as academia and the greatest thinkers and philosophies through the ages and up to present-day science and advanced theories of the nature of the universe. Most importantly, the ego and its structure are revealed to facilitate the understanding of religious and spiritual truths expressed by the mystics and enlightened sages over the centuries. It becomes apparent why the human mind, unaided, has been intrinsically incapable of discerning truth from falsehood. A simple test is described that, in seconds, can solve riddles that have been irresolvable by mankind for centuries. This book delivers far more than it promises.

Here’s the description of the book on David Hawkin’s website,

Reveals a breakthrough in documenting a new era of human knowledge. Only in the last decade has a science of Truth emerged that, for the first time in human history, enables the discernment of truth from falsehood. Presented are discoveries of an enormous amount of crucial and significant information of great importance to mankind, along with calibrations of historical events, cultures, spiritual leaders, media, and more.

A science of consciousness developed which revealed that degrees of truth reflect concordant calibratable levels of consciousness on a scale of 1 to 1,000. When this verifiable test of truth was applied to multiple aspects of society (movies, art, politics, music, sociology, religion, scientific theories, spirituality, philosophy, everyday Americana, and all the countries of the world), the results were startling.

Trust me, I am (slowly) getting to the point!

Dr. Hawkins created a ‘map’ of those calibrated levels of consciousness, see details of that map here.  Also, it wasn’t too difficult to find a plain B&W version on the Web, reproduced below.

As you can see when you study the map, the boundary between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’ is the calibrated level of 200, the blue line in the above described as ‘The beginning of integrity’.

Anyway, back to my psychotherapy friend, Jon, in SW England.  When I used to visit him, I always had Pharaoh with me and he would settle down behind my chair and let the human talk just flow over him, happy at some dog level to be included.

One day Jon was talking about the different levels on consciousness and looked over at Pharaoh asleep on the floor and said, “Do you that dogs are integrous!”  I responded that I didn’t know that, please tell me more.

Jon continued, “Yes, dogs have been calibrated as having a level of consciousness in the zone of 205 to 210.”

Wow!  What a revelation, that in a way didn’t strike me as foolish.  After 4 years of having Pharaoh as my companion, qualities such as unconditional love towards me, trust, courage, integrity and forgiveness were an obvious part of his character.  See where those levels and emotions appear on the map above.

Later back home, I was idly browsing domain names and saw that ‘learningfromdogs’ was available!  Little did I realise then that in September 2008, Pharaoh and I would move out to live with Jeannie and her 12 other dogs in San Carlos, Mexico and subsequently in February, 2010, all of us move to Payson, Arizona.  I started writing the Blog Learning from Dogs on July 15th, 2009 when still down in Mexico.

Still awake out there? 🙂

As part of my research into the domesticated dog in the early days of putting the Blog together, I explored the science behind the separation, or perhaps better described as the evolution, of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) from the wolf (Canis lupus). That the domesticated dog was originally a form of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora.

As the website, Canine Science, explains,

The basic construction of the dog’s skeleton is the same, regardless of whether it is a Labrador Retriever, aBoxer or a Yorkshire Terrier.

The skeleton of a wolf is identical too.

The skeleton of the wolf.

It was clear that scientists were divided on when this happened.  Some argue it occurred 100,000 years ago, others that it was a far more recent development, closer to 15,000 years ago.   I wrote here under the heading of Dogs and Integrity,

Dogs are part of the Canidae, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  There is no hard evidence about when dogs and man came together but dogs were certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago.  See an interesting article by Dr. George Johnson.

On the Home Page, I say,

Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years.  That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer.  Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming,  thence the long journey to modern man.

Those words were more of an instinctive assessment than based on hard science.  Now we have the science!

The link that Merci O. sent me was to a recent article on the website, AZ Central, and was headed,

Tamed dogs may go back 33,000 years

by Anne Ryman – Jan. 24, 2012 11:33 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com

Dogs have been “man’s best friend” longer than any other animal. And, as it turns out, longer than previously thought.

A pair of research papers published in the past few years, one most recently by a team that includes the University of Arizona, significantly pushes back the timeline for domestication of dogs from about 14,000 years ago to more than 30,000 years ago.

Researchers at UA and universities in England and the Netherlands used radiocarbon dating to determine that the skull of a Siberian dog was about 33,000 years old. Slightly older dog remains were identified in Belgium a few years ago by a separate research team.

The two findings indicate the process of domestication was occurring in separate regions at a time when early humans, including Neanderthals, in Europe and Siberia were small-group hunter-gatherers. About 14,000 years ago, Neanderthals were gone and humans were more mobile, living and hunting in larger groups.

The latest study’s co-author, UA professor Gregory Hodgins, said the finding broadens the timeline of humans interacting with the natural world. While humans have depended on animals since the dawn of the human species, domestication of animals indicates a symbiotic relationship between the two.

“It suggests living in close quarters and some sort of emotional bond,” he said.

Then just a couple of paragraphs later, came confirmation of my speculative position,

Before the most recent discoveries in Siberia and Belgium, the first signs of dog domestication appeared about 14,000 years ago. At some point, humans began relying on dogs for things like protection, hunting and companionship.

Dogs allowed humans to become a different, more effective predator, said Michael Barton, an Arizona State University anthropology professor who was not a co-author of either recent study. A dog’s keen sense of smell allowed humans to track animals better.

“They give us an edge,” he said.

The article closes,

The UA research on dogs was published recently in Public Library of Science One, a peer-reviewed journal. The team included scientists in Russia, Canada, England and the Netherlands. Research on the Belgian dog was published in 2008 in the Journal of Archeological Science.

It really is worth reading in full and a brilliant find by Merci.  It may be entirely the case that without dogs man could not have evolved beyond hunter-gatherers to farmers.

The oldest relationship of all!

First message in a bottle

So what advice would you offer to the next generation?

One of the biggest differences between Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris is that the latter is such a master of living in the present that, one assumes, the issue of worrying about the next generation is largely irrelevant.  Definitely not so with us humans.

A few weeks back I was chatting to a good friend of mine, Peter McCarthy, whom I first met when I undertook a sales and marketing project for one his companies.  That was many years ago but Peter and I have stayed in touch.  One of the many attributes about Peter that I have admired over the years is his instinctive and thoughtful approach to entrepreneurism.  Peter is still an active entrepreneur.

Anyway, Peter and I were talking about the sorts of qualities that enable some young people to take a risk-based entrepreneurial approach to life.  Peter gave me the links to three videos that he thought were especially relevant to the notion of achieving success in life.  So over the next few days I want to share those videos with you, dear reader.  To me, these videos are, indeed, the essence of the messages that any person, especially those the wrong side of 60, would wish to leave in a bottle floating down the river of life.

So to the first.  The address by Steve Jobs to the University of Stanford’s 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.  Already watched at the time of writing this by 12,690,731 persons!