The Aurignacian dogs14 May 2010
I didn’t see this article when it came out but I ran across it this week: Pat Shipman writes about possible evidence for early dog domestication (“The Woof at the Door”).
Some of the earliest known art objects from Europe include the remarkable cave paintings of Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest of which were made 32,900 490 years ago. None of the hundreds of glorious Chauvet paintings show wolves. However, the cave preserves something even more haunting: the footprints of a human child about four-and-a-half feet tall, as well as many footprints of large canids and bears.
Michel-Alain Garcia of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nanterre noticed in 1999 that one track of canid prints appears to accompany the childs prints. These canid prints, unlike the others, have a shortened middle digit on the front paw: a characteristic of dogs. Garcia suggested that the child and dog might have explored the cave together. Charcoal from a torch the child carried is 26,000 years old.
It’s a nice article throughout, describing why some are convinced that dog domestication was Aurignacian or earlier in time. It would be interesting to see an update to the story in light of the recent description of dog and wolf genetics, that argued for a more recent domestication in the Near East. Personally I don’t see a contradiction here, if we suppose that the population of dogs may have grown enormously with pastoralism in the Near East, drawing substantially upon local wolf populations. It’s shaping up to be a complicated problem.