Bones suggest Neolithic dogs hunted with people

(Credit: Getty Images)

New research indicates that humans valued the tracking and hunting abilities of early dogs more than previously known.

Humans domesticated dogs as early as 14,000 years ago in the Near East, but whether this was accidental or on purpose is so far not clear. The new study of animal bones from the 11,500-year-old settlement Shubayqa 6 in northeast Jordan not only suggests that dogs were present in this region at the start of the Neolithic period, but also that humans and dogs likely hunted animals together.

“The study of the large assemblage of animal bones from Shubayqa 6 revealed a large proportion of bones with unmistakable signs of having passed through the digestive tract of another animal; these bones are so large that they cannot have been swallowed by humans, but must have been digested by dogs,” explains Lisa Yeomans, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Copenhagen and the study’s lead author.

gazelle bones
Selection of gazelle bones from Space 3 at Shubayqa 6 displaying evidence for having been in the digestive tract of a carnivore. (Credit: U. Copenhagen)

Yeomans and her colleagues have been able to show that people occupied Shubayqa 6 year round, which suggests that the dogs were living together with the humans rather than visiting the site when there were no inhabitants.

“The dogs were not kept at the fringes of the settlement, but must have been closely integrated into all aspects of day-to-day life and allowed to freely roam around the settlement, feeding on discarded bones, and defecating in and around the site,” Yeomans says.

When Yeomans and her coauthors sifted through the analyzed data, they also noted a curious increase in the number of hares at the time that dogs appeared at Shubayqa 6. People hunted hares for their meat, but Shubayqa 6’s inhabitants also used the hare bones to make beads. The team think that there is likely a connection between the appearance of dogs and the increase in hares.

shubayqa structure
One of the excavated structures at Shubayqa (Credit: U. Copenhagen)

“The use of dogs for hunting smaller, fast prey such as hares and foxes, perhaps driving them into enclosures, could provide an explanation that is in line with the evidence we have gathered. The long history of dog use, to hunt both small as well as larger prey, in the region is well known, and it would be strange not to consider hunting aided by dogs as a likely explanation for the sudden abundance of smaller prey in the archaeological record,” says Yeomans.

“The shift may also be associated with a change in hunting technique from a method, such as netting, that saw an unselective portion of the hare population captured, to a selective method of hunting in which individual animals were targeted. This could have been achieved by dogs.”

The study appears in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Source: University of Copenhagen