Sunday, 7 August 2011

Prehistoric Man's Best Friend

Razboinichya Skull
A recent discovery from deep Siberia is shedding light on early animal husbandry. A team led by Dr Nikolai Ovodov have unearthed the skull of a 33,000 year old, remarkably well preserved canine at the Razboinichya Cave in the Altai Mountains, Siberia. The snout was similar in shape and size to the skulls of 1000 year old, fully domesticated dogs. However the teeth were far larger, more like those of wolves. This suggests that this creature and its kin were in the early stages of domestication.

Domestication would not have been intentional at first. Instead creatures such as wolves would have tailed populations of nomadic humans and fed off the scraps of flesh and bone that they left behind. The juvenile wolves would have been useful to humans as they were trusting enough to be handled and controlled. Juveniles possess shorter and wider snouts with closely packed teeth, the same characteristics as this skull and of the fully domesticated dogs of today.

Dogs would have been very useful. They would have provided defense against large predators such as bears and would have been invaluable as trackers during a hunt. Interestingly, this branch of early Russian domestication seems to end around 20,000 years ago. The Siberian Samoyed dog filled the gap around 10,000 years ago. The precise reason for disappearance of dogs is unknown as they would have provided an extreme advantage in the ice locked landscape of Siberia.