Dogs and People Buried Together 14,000 Years Ago


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The human-animal bond isn’t a new thing. It turns out that 14,000 years ago we were buried alongside our best pals, according to a study published from researchers from the University of Alberta in the Journal of Archaeological Science in February.

Some archaeological findings have discovered dogs buried adorned with jewelry. And, there’s evidence that people tried to care for sick puppies, though no one knows what veterinary medicine might have been like 14,000 years ago.

In 1914, workers uncovered a grave at Bonn-Oberkassel, today a suburb of Bonn, Germany. The remains—a dog, a man, and woman, along with several decorated objects made from antler, bone, and teeth—date back around 14,000 years to the Paleolithic era.

There’s no doubt, based on archeological evidence, that dogs provided various utilitarian purposes, from assisting humans on hunts to guarding villages. There’s also evidence that men shared their sleeping quarters with dogs. That, too, may be utilitarian, as there were no space heaters.

But, increasing evidence suggests there was a bond. One reason that dogs became more bonded with us is that humans selectively bred dogs, likely for hunting ability but as likely for temperament. So, did we develop emotional attachment to dogs as many as 14,000 years ago?

The researchers write, “The Bonn-Oberkassel dog was a late juvenile when it was buried at approximately age 27–28 weeks, with two adult humans and grave goods. Oral cavity lesions indicate a gravely ill dog that likely suffered a morbillivirus (canine distemper) infection. A dental line of suggestive enamel hypoplasia appears at the 19-week developmental stage. Two additional enamel hypoplasia lines, on the canine only, document further disease episodes at weeks 21 and 23. Pathological changes also include severe periodontal disease that may have been facilitated by immunodeficiency.

Since canine distemper has a three-week disease course with very high mortality, the dog must have been perniciously ill during the three disease bouts and between ages 19 and 23 weeks. Survival without intensive human assistance would have been unlikely. Before and during this period, the dog cannot have held any utilitarian use to humans.”

Of course, we can’t know for sure. But, if we buried dogs in our own graves and humans attempted to treat their illnesses, this suggests the answer is yes, most certainly there was an emotional attachment.

This research also further distinguishes domestic dogs from wolves, even 14,000 years ago. While dogs did develop from a wolf species, which is long extinct, even back then people clearly associated with dogs differently than with wild animals. So, if 14,000 years ago people didn’t consider dogs wolves, why would we do that today?

Dogs and wolves: alike in some ways, but more different than alike.

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