Man’s best friend may be a lot older than you think. Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada are exploring the cultural aspects that made dogs and humans such a good fit over time.
“It’s a very compelling study, that even on a chemical basis we get this kind of biological impulse to bond, and animals have the same impulse to bond with us,” says University of Alberta anthropologist Robert Losey.
Losey recently excavated the remains of canines around 5,000 to 8,000 years old at Baikal Lake in southern Siberia, which is the deepest freshwater lake in the world. At the site, a man was found buried in the same grave as his two dogs, one on either side, which suggests that dogs had a special place alongside humans.
“The dogs were being treated just like people when they died,” Losey said. “They were being carefully placed in a grave, some of them wearing decorative collars, or next to other items like spoons, with the idea being potentially that they had souls and an afterlife.”
“Early on there’s evidence to suggest people loved and cared for their dogs in much the same way we do now, but they were also working companions, involved in all of our daily tasks,” he said. “Thousands of years ago there were even lapdogs—the Romans had them. Clearly, people long ago began breeding dogs for specific purposes.”
Modern canines are believed to be descended from the grey wolf, which is one subspecies that branched off and began working with humans roughly 30,000 years ago.
According to Phys.org, wolves likely foraged around human campsites and gradually grew less inhibited. Once their potential as companions and workmates became apparent, they were domesticated and selectively bred.
Losey also found early evidence of dogs used to pull sleds, wearing what appear to be harnesses. “We see this unique muli-species community emerging.”
The big question in the field now is when and where exactly dogs emerged from wolves, but I don’t think that tells us very much,” he says. “What can we learn about people’s relationship with dogs in the past? The history of our working relationships with animals, and our emotional relationships, is what interests me.”
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