Findings from an archaeological site in Jordan indicate that dogs lived with humans 11,500 years ago

The transition from hunter-gatherer societies to farmers' societies


The people who lived 11,500 years ago in the area that is today northeast of Jordan apparently did not know this, but they were in the midst of one of the most important changes in human history: the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to farmers' societies. This is the change that led to the development of cities and then kingdoms, and ultimately to all human civilizations. 

These people already lived in permanent settlements, and began to use more and more plants and animals in their environment. And they had something else: dogs. 

In a new article, researchers from Denmark and the United Kingdom suggest that dog domestication have contributed to the expansion of resources available to people of the period, and that the dogs mainly helped to hunt relatively small prey, such as rabbits.

Those whose remains were found at a site known as Shubayqa 6 lived in basalt stone structures, with a stone floor, which was an innovation in their time. The houses served them all year, without seasonal migration. 


Their waste was dumped in specially designated places near their homes, and thousands of years later it became a real treasure for archaeologists trying to recreate their way of life.

stone house found in jordan
Basalt stone house found in Shubayka 6. Source: Copenhagen University

The researchers found about 3,800 mammal bones, of which 55 belonged to dogs. In addition, there were many bones of herbivorous animals with signs that predators, probably dogs, swallowed, digested and secreted them. 


The researchers speculate that the dogs were initially attracted to the waste bins and bones in them, and over time people became accustomed to their presence and realized that they could also benefit from their presence.


Examples of the dogs bones recovered from Shubayqa 6. Source: Copenhagen University

Origin of the domestic dog

Dogs have accompanied humans earlier: they seem to have been in some of the Natufian settlements that preceded the inhabitants of Shubayka 6. 

But the distribution of bones on the site suggests a closer presence of animals than in the past; they did not keep the dogs at the edge of the settlement, but rather the dogs integrated into daily life, and they were allowed to move about freely in the community and eat bones that were thrown around the site.


The first working dogs

The accepted view was that the first "work" dogs assisted humans with hunting large animals, such as antelopes or deer. These are the animals that the wolves, from which the dogs evolved, hunt together. 

But at sites like Shubayka 6, the presence of dogs comes with a sharp increase in the number of bones of smaller animals, foxes and especially rabbits. There was also a change in the hunted rabbits themselves; while in earlier sites there were mostly young rabbits, in Shubayka 6 more mature rabbits were found. 

This suggests a change in hunting methods - and researchers suggest that the main change is the use of dogs.

Dogs have been used, and are still used, for hunting rabbits and mammals of similar size throughout the world, including the Middle East. 


The dogs that characterize the Middle Eastern area today are the Salukis - fast, long-legged dogs that rely on sight rather than smell when they search for prey. 

Evidence suggests that the Salukis originate from an earlier breed of similar dogs, and it is possible that their ancestors accompanied the ancient Jordanians when they went hunting rabbits.

Previous studies have shown that people living in the Middle East during this period began to use more and more plants and animals, domesticated some of them and underwent a transition to a farmer society. 


The prevailing assumption is that climate change has led to a shortage of more readily available foods, based on previous generations, and forced humans to find additional sources of food. 

But the new study shows that the residents of Shubayaka 6 did not suffer from shortages. The researchers suggest that the development of new methods for obtaining food, including hunting with dogs, played an important role in expanding the menu.

References:

Yeomans, Lisa, Louise Martin, and Tobias Richter. "Close companions: Early evidence for dogs in northeast Jordan and the potential impact of new hunting methods." Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 53 (2019): 161-173.

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