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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dogs And Origins

Dogs, people's best friends, have an interesting and controversial history. Some research defends the theory that all dogs descended from an animal called Tomarctus that lived approximately 15 million years ago and thought to be used by Stone-aged people to help them track game. As far as dog breeds, the Saluki, with ancient Egyptian hunting roots, is believed to be the oldest breed that developed about eight thousand years ago.

Origin Before DNA

Prior to the use of DNA, most researchers were divided into two schools of thought concerning the origin of the dog:
  1. most supposed that these early dogs were descendants of tamed wolves, which interbred and evolved into a domesticated species.
  2. other scientists, while believing wolves were the chief contributor, suspected that jackals or coyotes contributed to the dog's ancestry. ("Origin of the Domestic Dog,"
Some paleontologists and archaeologists determined that Miacis, a weasel-like animal, is the ancestor of the canids (biological family that includes dogs) as well as other families such as bears, raccoons, civets, hyenas and cats. From Miacis evolved Cynodictis, a dog-like animal in Euroasia and Asia from which later evolved the "in-between dog," the link between this species to the dog. ( Paleobiology Database: Cynodictis, Age Range and Collections

Grey Wolf

Origin Since DNA

Most scientists now agree that dogs are descended from Canis Lupus, the Grey Wolf. Dr. Robert K. Wayne, canid biologist and molecular geneticist, through DNA research, has shown that dogs had this close relationship with the Grey Wolf. The authors of the Mammal Species of the World, internationally accepted reference source on mammal species, reclassified the dog in 1993 from Canis Familiaris to Canis Lupus. (
Now, even more modern means are being used to trace the dog's origins. The history has been studied recently using mitochondrial DNA, and seems to suggest that wolves and dogs split into different species around 100,000 years ago. (K. Kris Hirst, "How Were Dogs Domesticated?"

But did humans have anything to do with that split? Although no one really knows. Wolf and man were both pack hunters and their paths would have regularly crossed. They would have hunted and eaten each other. 

Some researchers do believe humans played a part. Research exists that contends dogs were domesticated in the following ways:

1. Wolves were adopted as orphaned pups. (Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Animals in Transition, 2005) 
2. Wolves, as scavengers, were attracted to the bones and refuse dumps of campsites. (Dr. Raymond Coppinger, Human Stars and "The Animal Attraction," 2001) 
3. Wolves were used for beasts of burden. (, 2002)

4. Wolves were used as a source of food and fur. (Mark Derr, Dog's Best Friend, 2004)  
5. Wolves were used during the human hunt. (
6. Wolves were used for keeping flocks together.
7. Wolves were used to warn against approaching enemies.

The recent mtDNA analysis suggests that the origin and location of dog domestication, long thought to be in east Asia, is in some doubt. (Boyko, Adam R., et al., Complex Population Structure in African Village Dogs and Its Implications for Inferring Dog Domestication History,

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009)

The Goyet Cave, Belgium, has yielded the oldest dog skull to date. Direct-dated by AMS radiocarbon at 31,700 BP, ("years before the present"), the skull most closely represents prehistoric dogs, rather than wolves. Chauvet Cave (26,000 BP) and Mezhirich (15,000 BP) sites in the Ukraine have also given scientists skulls.

The Goyet Cave skull represents not a "domesticated dog" but rather a wolf in transition to a dog. Certain physical changes seen in the skulls (consisting primarily of the shortening of the snout) may have been driven by changes in diet, rather than by specific selection of traits by humans. "That transition in diet could well have been partly due to the beginnings of a relationship between humans and dogs, although the relationship might have been as tenuous as animals following human hunters to scavenge, rather like the behavior that is believed to have existed between humans and cats." (K. Kris Hirst, "How Were Dogs Domesticated?" After all, have cats ever really been domesticated, or do they merely take advantage of the mice humans attract?

Ein Mallaha

Fossil Evidence of Human and Dog Relationship

At the site of one of the earliest human settlements, Ein Mallaha in northern Israel, scientists found the first fossil evidence (12,000 years old) of an unlikely alliance. The fossil is that of a human and dog or wolf pup buried together in an intimate embrace. (Jonica Newby, "The Animal Attraction," Australian Broadcasting System, 2001)

Dogs In Recorded Human History

Spiritually speaking, the dog to the ancient civilizations was most frequently associated with death and the afterlife. ( After all, he was a known scavenger. The Old Testament scorns the dog for returning to it's vomit. In Greek mythology Cerberus, a three headed dog, guarded Hades. The Maya also associated their dog with death in the form of Nahua Xolotl, or Pek, the dog of lightning who heralded the coming of death. Perhaps, it was the hunting habits of the dog, the sight of the pack tearing its prey to shreds as opposed to the "clean" kill of the great cats or birds of prey.

The dog was generally considered an unclean animal. Both the Hebrew and Moslem cultures forbid eating an animal that had been "torn by dogs", and no doubt, the threat of rabies made this a wise practice. (The Moslems made exception for the Saluki , as it was considered a Gift of Allah.)

During the reign of the early Greek, and later, the Roman Empire, the status of dogs began to change. The dog was kept not only as a hunter, herder, and guardian, but also as a beloved pet. Dogs began to appear in sculpture, and had their portraits painted.

Their fidelity was noted and rewarded is evidenced both by the story of Odysses' hound Argus, and by the real dog "Delta". Unearthed at Pompeii were the remains of a dog stretched out beside a child. The dog, "Delta," wore a silver collar which told that it belonged to Severinus, whose life he had saved three times: once from drowning, once from robbers, and once from an angry wolf. Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. (

Irish Wolfhound

However, not all dogs were so highly valued. Ever on the lookout for something new to present at the Colossium, the Romans collected animals (including dogs) from all corners of the known world. In A.D. 391,Quintus Aurelis Symmachus, the Roman consul, wrote thanking his brother for the seven hounds (Irish Wolfhounds) saying that "All Rome viewed them with wonder". The Romans were also very much impressed with the quality of British hounds and mastiffs, as fighting dogs against a wide variety of lions, leopards, gladiators, slaves, and even elephants. ("History of the Irish Wolfhound," and H. Boycott Oddy, "Country Life," May 15, 1909) 

In the Far East, what kind of a life a dog lead depended wholly on it's breed. The dog could find itself employed as a hunter (the noble Chow Chow), fighter (the Chinese Shar Pei), or as the main course at dinner.

In Europe, the Middle Ages saw the purebred dog become the prized possession of kings, noblemen, and surprisingly, church officials as a new use was developed for the dog when hunting for sport became popular. The Bloodhound, who takes his name from "Blooded Hound," or purebred, traces back to the St. Hubert hounds of the seventh century A.D., when most noblemen kept their own pack of hounds. (

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