A team of researchers from Italy, Spain and Georgia has found the remains ofancient hunting dogs at a dig site in what is now modern Georgia. In theirpaper published in the journal Scientific Reports , the group describes thefossils they found, their attempts to classify them and the possibility of thedogs interacting with early human ancestors.
Prior research has shown that a type of ancient hunting dog evolved millionsof years ago in parts of Asia and then migrated into parts of Europe andAfrica. Prior evidence also has shown that the dogs were quite large andlikely engaged in social behaviors such as pack hunting. Prior research hasalso led to the discovery of the remains of ancient human ancestors near theGeorgian village of Dmanisi—the oldest ever found outside of Africa. In thisnew study, the researchers found evidence of the hunting dogs living in thevicinity of the human ancestors at Dmanisi approximately 1.8 million yearsago.
The dog remains, which included four skeletons and multiple skulls, have beenclassified by the team as belonging to Canis (Xenocyon) lycaonoides, commonlyreferred to as the Eurasian hunting dog. They have estimated that the doglikely weighed approximately 30 kg when alive and was likely quite young. Theysuggest it had longer limbs than modern hunting dogs and was stouter. Theynote that the find represents the oldest such fossil found to date in Europeand is the first to have been found at the Dmanisi site.
The researchers note that the remains do not represent domestication of thedogs. Prior research has suggested humans did not begin domesticating any kindof dog until approximately 40,000 years ago. But they note that the closeproximity of the dog fossils with the human fossils suggests they did coexistand might have even stolen each other’s food—modern hunting dogs have learnedto eat quickly as their prey is quite often stolen by other larger animals.The find also suggests that the two species appeared to have met as the dogswere migrating south into the Middle East and Africa and the human ancestorswere migrating north into Europe and Asia.
Image: Two social species at Dmanisi. (a) altruistic behavior of a group ofHomo erectus sharing food with an individual who lived several years withoutteeth (as evidenced by edentulous skull D3444 and associated mandible D3900).This severe masticatory impairment would limit the diet of the individual tofoodstuffs that did not require heavy chewing (e.g., soft plants, animal brainand marrow) or that were orally processed before by others. (b) a pack ofhunting dogs chasing a prey (goat Hemitragus albus) by at Venta Micena, a sitewhere a pathological skull (cranium and associated mandible VM-7000) of Canis(Xenocyon) lycaonoides showing marked bilateral asymmetry and agenesia ofseveral teeth was unearthed. The disabled dog, whose absence of an uppercanine probably made it useless for hunting, is drawn running far behind thepack. Given that the individual managed to survive until a relatively advancedage, as indicated by tooth wearing, this suggests that the other members ofits family group would have allowed it to feed on the prey captured by thehunting pack. Remains of this hypercarnivorous canid species are alsopreserved in the assemblage of large mammals from Dmanisi, as shown in thispaper. Artwork made by Mauricio Antón with the scientific supervision by theauthors of the manuscript. Credit: DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-92818-4
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