Archaeological ‘dog’ evidence is extensive

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Remains of the first visibly identifiable dingo-like dogs are found extensively throughout Eurasia and North America. 

Bones of ‘wolves’ such as Canis lupus variabilis – I’ve put ‘wolves’ in parenthesis because as I’ve mentioned, some biologists say these were not wolves but rather a closely related but different canine species that was our dogs’ direct ancestor – have been found in association with humans and our hominid ancestors as far back as 400,000 years ago but the oldest archaeological evidence of the ‘dog’ comes from two skeletons probably 14,800 years old (but up to 17,000 years old) found at a very late paleolithic settlement called Eliseyevichi in the Bryansk region of Russia. (The paleolithic is the longest part of the Stone Age, from the beginning of the use of stone tools until 15,000 years ago.) These skeletons belonged to large Ice Age dogs, 70 centimetres (27.5 inches) high at the withers, the size of Tibetan mastiffs (or as the Russian researchers preferred to compare them, the size of Caucasian owtcharkas). These two dogs had shorter and wider muzzles than local wolves. Their bones were found next to reindeer, polar fox and mammoth bones. One of the skulls had a hole bored into it, doubtlessly to extract the brain to eat. That’s not an uncommon find in dog skulls found in late Stone Age and early Bronze Age settlements. I’ve got a small reservation about the accuracy of the interpretation of these bones. Their size surprises me. Everywhere else, the oldest dog bones come from dingo-sized animals. These are wolf-sized skeletons. I’d like to see the Russian researchers confirm these are dog bones which can be done simply by analysing their mtDNA.

The oldest archaeological evidence of a companionable rather than a nutritional relationship with the dog comes from a dog jaw bone, 14,000 years old, found interred with a human at Bonn-Oberkassel, an archaeological site in Germany. Two more adult dog skulls, almost as old, have been found in internment sites near Kiev, Ukraine.?The oldest of all these dog remains are from sites of very late Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies but by the time of the Neolithic Period, beginning around 12,000 years ago in the Middle East and slightly later in Europe, dogs had become an integral part of human culture and filled specific roles. A Neolithic rock painting from what is present day Iraq shows people hunting deer accompanied by dogs with curled tails. Another painting found in what is present day Algeria shows an ox-like animal surrounded by dogs with curled tails and a man holding a spear. In what is now Israel, at a burial site at Ein Mallaha dating back 12,000 years, is the oldest and most touching evidence that our ancestors could form emotional bonds with dogs. There, a woman is buried with her arm around a young dog around the same age as my pup Bean. In another site at Hayonim, 500 years older than the Ein Mallaha site, there are two full dog skeletons that have been intentionally interred. To me, this also suggests that dogs already had, let’s call it ‘spiritual value’.

Dog graveyards are ancient?In Ashkelon, Israel a more recent dog burial site tells of the value of dogs or the respect they were accorded. A Phoenician graveyard 2500 years old has been discovered in which there are 700 dogs, all carefully buried in the same position, on their sides with their legs flexed and their tails tucked neatly around their hind legs. According to the archaeologists, these dogs, all similar in type, are not unlike the modern Israeli Canaan dog, itself a descendant of Bedouin pariah dogs.)

In continental Europe, as well as the mandible in Oberkassel, a dog skull carbon dated to be over 13,000 years old has been found in a cave at Kniegrotte and a 10,000 year old dog skull at Bedburg-Koningshoven, both in Germany. The oldest dog remains in France, over 10,000 years old, were found near St Thibaud in the Alps while the oldest dog remains in Britain are 9,500 years old.

In east Asia, on the Russian Kamchatka peninsula a 10,500 year old intentionally interred dog skeleton has been discovered in an archaeological dig while in northern China, eleven buried dogs have been uncovered in a burial site at Jiahu (Henan) that is 9,500 years old. Equally old dog bones have been found in a shell mound, an ancient waste dump, at Natsushima (Kanagawa) in Japan while a full dog skeleton has been discovered intentionally buried near Kamikuroiwa (Ehima).

 

 

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