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Published On: Fri, Apr 21st, 2017

From Mighty Bear Dogs to Breathless Bulldogs: How Human Manipulation Has Changed the Shape of Canines Forever

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Dogs in Prehistory

The early ancestors of Gray Wolves were a group of carnivores named the creodonts  that roamed the northern hemisphere between 100 and 120 million years ago. About 55 million years ago, the creodonts gave rise to the carnassials, a group of wolf-like animals that had specialized jaws for eating meat. One member of this family,  Miacis, is thought to be the common ancestor of ALL present-day wolves, dogs, bears, raccoons, and weasels.

60-55 million years ago: a species of dog existed known Miacis, which is a common ancestor to almost all modern-day carnivores, including canines.

45-2 million years ago: a massive species known as Bear Dogs ( amphicyonidae) roamed North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Canis Lupus  shared its existence with Bear Dogs and are one of the closest relatives to the Gray Wolf ( Canis Lupus ).

Bear Dog Skeleton (amphicyonidae). They existed from around 44 until about 2 million years ago.

Bear Dog Skeleton (amphicyonidae). They existed from around 44 until about 2 million years ago. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

25 million years ago: a species known as Cynodictis split in two, evolving into African hunting dogs and Eurasian wolves and dogs. Tomarctus, with its incredibly powerful biting jaw, long tail, and sharp claws existed for around 7 million years and inhabited much of North America. 

Life restoration of Hesperocyon (formerly Cynodictis) gregarius from W.B. Scott's ‘A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere’

Life restoration of Hesperocyon (formerly Cynodictis) gregarius from W.B. Scott’s ‘A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere’ ( Public Domain )

100000 – 8000 BC

For millions of years, humans and wolves shared bounty rich forests and hunting planes. It is unknown exactly when domestic dogs ( Canis familiaris ) evolved from the Gray Wolf ( Canis lupus ) but recent studies of dog mitochondrial DNA suggest they evolved alongside each other over 100,000 years ago. Until 2009, most experts believed domestication occurred about 14,000 years ago, but that idea was tipped on its head with the discovery of several dog skulls which had been ritually buried in a cave in the Czech Republic – dated to 30,000 BC.

In 2011, a Paleolithic dog skeleton dated to 40,000 years ago was unearthed with a large mammoth bone in its mouth, suggesting that not only did prehistoric dogs haul mammoth tusks and meat on sleds for humans, but that they also consumed mammoths.

The fossilized dog skull clutches the mammoth bone, seen sticking out of the front of the mouth.

The fossilized dog skull clutches the mammoth bone, seen sticking out of the front of the mouth. ( world-mysteries)

The dog with the mammoth bone in its mouth had its brain carefully removed after death, suggesting ritual significance possibly related to the perceived process of releasing the animal’s spirit.

Another dog skull dated to 33,000 years ago was recovered with a human body at Razboinichya Cave in Siberia, telling us that man had domesticated hunting dogs by this time and that they had an important role within religious/spiritual beliefs.

Modern theories suggest wolves first became attracted to human settlements because of discarded food scraps, and the species started becoming better scavengers than hunters. Tamer wolves that had learned to scavenge human campsites thrived, while the strongest predator wolves would be left behind, a hypothesis which backs up Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

At this time, not having the same teeth, jaws, or speed as dogs, humans were isolated and vulnerable and took advantage of these newly found wolves who helped protect small hunting stations and settlements. Dogs were an excellent early warning alarm system, and in famine they became a source of food. Over time the union of man and dog led to the most effective hunter-killer team on Earth and in return, dogs got companionship, protection, shelter, and a reliable food source. 

8000 – 2000 BC

The relationship between humans and dogs was cemented around 8000 BC at the dawn of farming, when man realized the domestic dog’s love of starch. With farming, we began training dogs into effective farming tools and weapons used in inter-tribal fighting. These inherent skills are still evident today in dog breeds with particular skill sets, for example; guard-dogs, police-dogs, military-dogs, sheep-dogs, and rat-catchers. Gray Wolves don’t absorb starch like domestic dogs, suggesting it was at this time domestic dogs split from Grey Wolves, however, it has also been argued that dogs had already been domesticated and simply adapted to the new human food sources.

Dogs became essential farmers’ tools in the Neolithic era as they not only guarded fields and animal stocks from predators, but they doubled as effective weapons in tribal warfare.

Dogs became essential farmers’ tools in the Neolithic era as they not only guarded fields and animal stocks from predators, but they doubled as effective weapons in tribal warfare. ( world-mysteries)

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