Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Of Wolves and Men

I'm finding this weekend WSJ article about the evolution of dogs very evocative. It's long been believed that dogs were some of the first domesticated animals. The consensus had been that dog domestication had happened around 15,000 years ago, with some sort of wolf-like proto-dog becoming a frequent camp follower and then companion of humans. Recent DNA and archeological evidence, however, seems to hint at much earlier origins, that dogs and humans began living together some 30,000+ years ago, and that those early dogs were in all essentials wolves.
While the old consensus model held that the first dogs were small, these and other recently identified early dogs are large animals, often with shorter noses and broader faces than today's wolves. These early dogs appear in the camps of hunters of horses, reindeer, mammoths and other big game. From all appearances, they were pack animals, guards, hunters and companions. They are perhaps best viewed as the offspring of highly socialized wolves who had begun breeding in or near human camps.

Our view of domestication as a process has also begun to change, with recent research showing that, in dogs, alterations in only a small number of genes can have large effects in terms of size, shape and behavior. Far from being a product of the process of domestication, the mutations that separated early dogs from wolves may have arisen naturally in one or more small populations; the mutations were then perpetuated by humans through directed breeding. Geneticists have identified, for instance, a mutation in a single gene that appears to be responsible for smallness in dogs, and they have shown that the gene itself probably came from Middle Eastern wolves.

All of this suggests that it was common for highly socialized wolves and people to form alliances. It also leads logically to the conclusion that the first dogs were born on the move with bands of hunter-gatherers—not around semi-permanent pre-agricultural settlements. This may explain why it has proven so difficult to identify a time and place of domestication.

Taken together, these recent discoveries have led some scientists to conclude that the dog became an evolutionary inevitability as soon as humans met wolves. Highly social wolves and highly social humans started walking, playing and hunting together and never stopped. The dog is literally the wolf who stayed, who traded wolf society for human society.
With all the folkloric ideas that attach to wolves in the more modern world, the idea of bands of bands of hunting and gathering each having an associated pack of social wolves seems to suggest a darker early man than the "dog wandered into the village and stayed" idea.

It also suggests some intriguing lines of imagination in relation to werewolves...


Enbrethiliel said...


Did you ever read the Rudyard Kipling story about the domestication of the animals?

Foxfier said...

It seems that wolves and humans met on the trail of the large grazing animals that they both hunted, and the most social members of both species gravitated toward each other.

*laughs* Or, like NORMAL people today, they got the pets because they got their hands on puppies; probably the first ones were when the mother was killed, one way or another, and when they figured out that the puppies would imprint on them, and were handy.
They also may have started out by idiot boys showing off and stealing pups-- wolves would be dangerous, and wolf pups are adorable. I can't think of a better way to get a date. ;^p

Foxfier said...

Incidentally, the idea of hunter-gatherers with dog packs makes good sense to me, the way that human eyes don't work so very well in the dark, and how we need hunting tools.

ElizabethK said...

Foxfier, I like your thinking on this one. I always think of dogs and cats as the animals who didn't leave us after the Fall. But they probably wouldn't publish that in the WSJ :).

Arkanabar said...

The other thing to recall is that humans and wolves share a hunting style not found in other types of predators. They are both serial hunters, able to chase prey until it drops from exhaustion. All manner of animals can beat us in a sprint. Very few, save dogs and perhaps wolves, could hope to run a marathon.