The Nature of Wolves – #03 Wolves and Early Humans

Humans and dogs were constant companions well before our ancestors settled in villages and started growing crops 10,000 years ago. Partnership with early wolves and early breeds of dog made homo sapiens successful hunters.

Previously, it was thought that domesticated dogs worked on farms. However, there is growing evidence that dogs and wolves first befriended hunter-gatherers, rather than farmers. Our furry friends helped with hunting and keeping other carnivores away. One author claims humans and dogs teamed up to drive Neanderthals to extinction. Skoglund suggests that the Siberian husky followed nomads across the Bering Land Bridge, picking up wolf DNA along the way.

“It might have been beneficial for them to absorb genes that were adapted to this high Arctic environment,” Skoglund said.

Why are you personally attracted to wolves? Anyone who owns a dog is familiar with the hypnotic, eye to eye stare that connects us instantly. Even on a photograph the stare attracts us.

The look of mutual recognition between humans and wolves and dogs reflects thousands of years of evolution and is a bond programmed into our very body chemistry. Both humans and dogs species release a hormone called oxytocin when they look into each other’s eyes. This is the same hormone released when a human mother beholds her baby. A Japanese study showed that higher levels of oxytocin were released during eye to eye contact than during petting or talking. Eyes really are the window to our connected souls.

An excavation of dog remains between 5,000 and 8,000 years old at Lake Baikal, Siberia, revealed that dogs were buried alongside humans in cemeteries. This suggests dogs were held in the same high esteem as humans.

“The dogs were being treated just like people when they died,” says Robert Losey, an archaeologist from the University of Alberta. “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.” In one instance a man was found buried in the same grave as his two dogs, one on either side. “Globally you can see that there are more dog burials in prehistory than any other animals, including cats or horses. Dogs seem to have a very special place in human communities in the past. As soon as we see skeletal remains that look like the modern dog—say 14,000 years ago—we see dogs being buried.”

Through chemical analysis of dog bones, Losey concluded that the Lake Baikal dogs were fed the same diet as humans. “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 says. “Thousands of years ago there were even lapdogs—the Romans had them. Clearly, people long ago began breeding dogs for specific purposes.”

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