Dogs are a man’s best friend but how did this friendship begin? When did humans of ancient age decide that this four-legged wild animal would make for a great buddy? According to the latest research, at least 14,000 to 29,000 years ago.
New data suggests that cave-dwelling humans of the last ice age started this interspecies friendship. When the weather got too cold, cavemen and women started feeding leftover meat to wolves who had come close to their settlements. However, during the similar time-frame, wolves were also a competitive species to humans in Eurasia as both were looking for similar preys like deer for their survival.
Some researchers have often wondered why didn’t the ancient humans simply eliminate the wolves to get rid of the competition, they certainly had the tools to do it. How did these two-competitor species end up in a mutual co-dependent relationship?
Finnish researchers the answer lies in need vs supply. According to the caloric intake, the hunter-gatherer humans would often be left with a surplus of lean meat. Unlike lions and wolves, humans don’t need to finish off a whole deer. This is when they scientists believe they feeding the spare meet to wild wolves, ultimately leading to the evolution of dogs.
Archaeologist Maria Lahtinen of the Finnish Food Authority collected a sample of animals that both wolves and humans would have preyed upon. This included moose, horse, deer, etc. Then they analysed the energy content of the food vs the average intake that must have been required by the late ice-age humans. The energy content surpassed their intake hence the excess food must have been shared with wolves.
Thus, began a life-long journey of domestication of wolves and dogs. At some point, the humans may have realised these wolves could be used as companions on hunting trips. This was the next step in domestication.
But it wasn’t an immediate development; as in the first wolf to be fed some spare meet didn’t automatically become the friendly creature we know and love today.
“The process of dog domestication would have been a very complex process, involving a number of generations where signature dog traits evolved gradually,” Dr Krishna Veeramah from Stony Brook University said.
According to Daily Mail, the domestication process was rather passive. They must have initially lived in the outskirts of the hunter-gatherer human populations, scavenging food leftover by the humans. Gradually, some of the tamer wolves would have come closer and humans, sensing no harm from them, started feeding them willingly. As humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to settlers, their relationship with wolves grew stronger. From hunting companions to guard dogs, the relationship became more symbiotic.
The theory can also be correlated to genetic research conducted on some of the oldest known dog remains. The study suggested the domestication process started in Eurasia 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.