In “Do the Eyes Have It?” (American Scientist, May-June 2012), Pat Shipman argues that modern human groups thrived while Neanderthals died out – in part – because modern human groups domesticated dogs. His specific thesis will last, one guesses, until a definitely Neanderthal site is found that shows dogs living with humans.
That thesis feels like a Darwin-driven excuse for introducing a really interesting find – burial customs concerning dogs from 27,000 years ago:
One of the Predmostí dogs was found with its jaw and cranium still attached to each other in a lifelike position and with a large piece of bone wedged in its mouth. The bone must have been inserted shortly after the dog’s death, while muscles and ligaments still held the jaw to the cranium. The team suggests that in the past, as now, valued hunting dogs were honored and perhaps buried with ritual.
Another indicator of the importance of dogs was that two canine teeth from dogs or wolves at Predmostí were modified to be worn as personal adornments. Rarely did Paleolithic people make jewelry out of parts of food animals, so the high frequency of canid teeth drilled for use as pendants at Predmostí and other Paleolithic sites indicates that they were not considered food. Like humans, canids are very rarely depicted in Paleolithic cave art, also suggesting that the cave artists might have regarded canids as unusually close to humans.
There is something else odd about the early canid skulls: Forty percent of the 20 dog and wolf crania found at Predmostí have been pierced. Citing evidence from northern hunting peoples around the world who ceremonially open the braincases of slain carnivores, Germonpré and her colleagues surmise that the perforation of the Paleolithic dog skulls may have had a ritual significance. “At Predmostí,” the team wrote,
” … the large number of perforated braincases of large canids and the dog skull holding a bone between its front teeth hint at a specific relationship between humans and large canids, including the possibility of the existence of a wolf/dog ritual that could be connected with the sending of souls.”
Perhaps the dog was supposed to be there, awaiting his master’s arrival …
Shipman provides some really interesting material on how dogs generally help humans hunt – principally by finding suitable targets, and by keeping them in place until the guys with the weapons get there.
See also: Neanderthals using watercraft 130,000 years ago?
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