Ice Age Leftovers Created Domesticated Dogs?
Two theories exist about the origin of domesticated dogs...
They propose that prehistoric humans used early dogs as hunting partners. Other suggest wolves were attracted to our garbage piles. New research suggests both theories are wrong. That the real reason has to do with our limited capacity to digest protein. What do you think?
Dogs were domesticated from wild wolves during the last ice age between 14,000 and 29,000 years ago. The first animals domesticated by humans. Can you guess the second one?
Humans and wolves forming a collaborative relationship is an odd result. Given both species were pack hunters who often targeted the same prey. Don’t forget after all, today’s Dogs are derived from wolves!
“The domestication of dogs has increased the success of both species. To the point that dogs are now the most numerous carnivore on the planet,” wrote the authors of a new study published. “How this mutually beneficial relationship emerged, and specifically how the potentially fierce competition between these two carnivores was ameliorated, needs to be explained.”
It’s not immediately obvious why humans would want to keep wolves around. The two theories about the origin of dogs—either as partners used for hunting or as self-domesticated animals attracted to our garbage—aren’t very convincing to some. Wolves, even when tamed, would’ve made for awful hunting partners. They lacked the collaborative and advanced communication skills found in domesticated dogs. Also, wild wolves were attracted to human scraps causing unlikely interactions between them and humans.
“Hunter-gatherers do not necessarily leave waste in the same place over and over again. And why would they tolerate a dangerous carnivore group in their close surroundings? Humans tend to kill their competitors and other carnivores.”
She and her colleagues say there’s a more likely reason for the domestication of dogs.
It has to do with an abundance of protein during the harsh ice age winters. Which subsequently reduced competition between the two species. This in turn allowed humans and incipient dogs to live in symbiotic harmony. Paving the way for the ongoing evolution of both species.
The researchers have “introduced a really interesting hypothesis that seeks to address the long-debated mechanism by which early dog domestication occurred,” Also, an archaeologist at the University of Brighton who’s not involved with the new study, wrote in an email. “The idea is that human populations and wolves could have lived alongside each other during the harsh climatic conditions [of the last ice age] because human populations would have produced enough protein, through hunting activities, to keep both populations fed during the harsh winter months.”
Humans likely had more food during ice age winters than they could handle.
This is due to our inability to subsist exclusively on lean protein for months at a time. Also, something wolves have no issues with. For humans, excessive consumption of protein can lead to many health problems. In some cases even death, according to the authors. To overcome this biological limitation, Pleistocene hunters adapted their diets during the winter months. They targeted animal parts rich in fat, grease, and oils because of the benefits. In fact, “there is evidence for such processing behavior during the Upper Palaeolithic,” according to the paper.
Consequently, wolves and humans were able to “share their game without competition in cold environments”. This in turn made it possible for humans to keep wolves as pets.
“Therefore, in the short term over the critical winter months, wolves and humans would not have been in competition over resources and may have mutually benefited from each other’s companionship,” wrote the authors. “This would have been critical in keeping the first proto-dogs for years and generations.”
It’s very possible, said Lahtinen, that the earliest dogs were wolf pups. Hunter-gatherers, she said, “do take pets in most cultures. Humans tend to find young animals cute so it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.”
So dogs exist because wolf pups were cute and we had plenty of leftovers?
This theory may also explain the complexity of early dog domestication. This appears to have occurred in Eurasia at multiple times, with dogs continuing to interbreed with wild wolves. The new theory explains why the domestication of dogs appears to have occurred in arctic and subarctic regions.
Performing energy content calculations estimates the amount of energy left over from prey animals. Prey animals like Deer, Elk, Horses, and Rabbits. Also, if humans and wolves were having to compete for these resources, there would be little to no cooperation between the two species.
“Therefore, the early domesticated wolves could have survived living alongside human populations by consuming the excess protein from hunting that humans could not. Also, food for both populations means no competition. Thereby paving the way to domestication and the benefits of such a relationship to the two species.”
The authors described it as a “really intriguing hypothesis”. It provides a “mechanism that can explain the domestication of the wolf across a wide geographic and temporal range”. By “explaining how two carnivorous species could overcome the competition…under harsh climatic conditions”. Looking ahead, they said a similar approach would be useful for studying the interactions of humans and other species on this planet over time