Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dogs through Time

Randall Stephens

No other animal has been as shaped by humankind as Canis lupus, the gray wolf. There are now 400 different official breeds. They range in size from the itty-bitty Chihuahua, which can sit comfortably in a teacup, to the Mastiff, weighing in at well over 200 lbs.

And just how much has human history been shaped and altered by dogs, and domestic animals in general? Ancient grave sites are littered with animal bones. The domestication of animals more than 10,000 years ago brought with it significant changes. Groups could settle and channel energies into new cultural pursuits. And since we first figured out how to keep cats around, use yeast to make intoxicants, and herd cattle, our lives have been caught up with the lives of animals.

A recent article in Der Spiegel, "The Pharoahs' Pups: Egyptian Bones Could Help Solve Canine Conundrum," looks into the roots of human-dog interaction. The earliest archeological evidence suggests that we've been linked closely to them for 14,000 years. Even more surprising: "Scholars believe that wolves first started to have peaceful interactions with Stone Age humans about 30,000 years ago."

"How did all of these various [dog] breeds develop?" asks the author in Der Spiegel.

Reliefs, grave paintings and statues indicate that the ancient Egyptians played a major role in this development. The first known depictions of dogs come from rock carvings along the Nile River dating back almost 5,000 years ago. Not long thereafter, the pharaohs were already hunting with slender greyhounds. A leashed dog with black-and-white spots that vaguely resembles a dalmation is painted on a sarcophagus from the 6th dynasty, or roughly 4,000 years back.

Around 1500 B.C., small, bowlegged mutts and lapdogs were already scurrying around the palaces of the pharaohs. Brawny hunting dogs were bred for the battlefield, and mastiffs imported from Assyria were crossed with the domestic breed. A bronze figure from the grave of King Tut strongly resembles a dachshund.>>>

For more on the amazing transformation of dogkind over the ages, and for a look at how humans have interacted with dogs, watch Nova's Dogs Decoded (2010) and The Science of Dogs (National Geographic, 2007) on Netflix. (Each is a "watch instantly" title.)

On a related note, check out this preview of Werner Herzog's new 3-D documentary, Caves of Forgotten Dreams, about a group of 32,000-year-old cave paintings of animals and humans in southern France.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting suggestion, that domestication of dogs led to beer and house-cats! The "Dogs Decoded" program was great. The 3D caves program looks very cool. Thanks for mentioning it.