Thursday, March 5, 2015

Humans & The Great Canine Alliance

The great alliance of the mammal kingdom has been that between man and canine. It stretches back tens of thousands of years, when man and some wolves first made common cause for, presumably, food, security and companionship. And it has continued down through today with dogs, all of whom, despite their many shapes and differences, are genetically identical -- to less than 1% of their DNA -- to their ancient wolf ancestors.

Calling a dog "man's best friend" apparently doesn't do them justice. If current research is correct, they should be known as Homo Sapien's best friend. They are the reason we're around today to blog and bloviate, while all of the other human variants died off or were absorbed. This from the Guardian:

Dogs are humanity’s oldest friends, renowned for their loyalty and abilities to guard, hunt and chase. But modern humans may owe even more to them than we previously realised. We may have to thank them for helping us eradicate our caveman rivals, the Neanderthals.

According to a leading US anthropologist, early dogs, bred from wolves, played a critical role in the modern human’s takeover of Europe 40,000 years ago when we vanquished the Neanderthal locals.

“At that time, modern humans, Neanderthals and wolves were all top predators and competed to kill mammoths and other huge herbivores,” says Professor Pat Shipman, of Pennsylvania State University. “But then we formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal.”

If Shipman is right, she will have solved one of evolution’s most intriguing mysteries. Modern humans are known to have evolved in Africa. They began to emigrate around 70,000 years ago, reaching Europe 25,000 years later. The continent was then dominated by our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, who had lived there for more than 200,000 years. However, within a few thousand years of our arrival, they disappeared.

The question is: what finished them off? . . . Most argue that modern humans – armed with superior skills and weapons – were responsible. Shipman agrees with the latter scenario, but adds a twist. We had an accomplice: the wolf.

Modern humans formed an alliance with wolves soon after we entered Europe, argues Shipman. We tamed some and the dogs we bred from them were then used to chase prey and to drive off rival carnivores, including lions and leopards, that tried to steal the meat.

“Early wolf-dogs would have tracked and harassed animals like elk and bison and would have hounded them until they tired,” said Shipman. “Then humans would have killed them with spears or bows and arrows.

“This meant the dogs did not need to approach these large cornered animals to finish them off – often the most dangerous part of a hunt – while humans didn’t have to expend energy in tracking and wearing down prey. Dogs would have done that. Then we shared the meat. It was a win-win situation.” . . .

By contrast, there is no evidence of any kind that Neanderthals had any relationship with dogs and instead they appear to have continued to hunt mammoths and elks on their own, a punishing method for acquiring food. Already stressed by the arrival of modern humans in Europe, our alliance with wolves would have been the final straw for Neanderthals.

Nor does the story stop in Europe, added Shipman. “I would see this as the beginning of the humans’ long invasion of the world. We took dogs with us wherever we went after our alliance formed in the palaeolithic. We took them to America and to the Pacific Islands. They made hunting easy and helped guard our food. It has been a very powerful alliance.”

So, hug your hounds today and don't get too upset with them for hogging the sofa. They've earned a few rewards . . .

Oh . . . . whose a good boy? Whose a good boy?

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