In “From the Cave to the Kennel” (Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2011, Mark Derr offers a somewhat contrarian history of the dog:
But it was never clear, in this old account, just how we got from the scavenging wolf to the remarkable spectrum of dogs who have existed over time, from fell beasts trained to terrorize and kill people to creatures so timid that they flee their own shadows. The standard explanation was that once the dump-diver became a dog, humans took charge of its evolution through selective breeding, choosing those with desired traits and culling those who came up short.
The DNA evidence remained controversial for years, even as most major studies placed the genetic separation of wolf and dog at earlier dates than those favored by archaeologists. Hard proof was slow to appear
This account is now falling apart in the face of new genetic analyses and recently discovered fossils. The emerging story sees humans and proto-dogs evolving together: We chose them, to be sure, but they chose us too, and our shared characteristics may well account for our seemingly unshakable mutual intimacy./blockquote>
All of this suggests that it was common for highly socialized wolves and people to form alliances. It also leads logically to the conclusion that the first dogs were born on the move with bands of hunter-gatherers—not around semi-permanent pre-agricultural settlements. This may explain why it has proven so difficult to identify a time and place of domestication.
Born on the move? Some of us have seen old film footage from the 1930s of Canadian Eskimo dogs born while their moms were in harness, and picked by children, deposited on the sledge.
The new account has the real advantage that it doesn’t try to explain why people started out by putting up with vicious curs. They didn’t.
This guy’s book might be a great Christmas present.
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