Humans Lived Alongside Dog-Like Creatures in Prehistoric Europe, Fossil Suggests

Artist’s depiction of Eurasian hunting dogs attacking prey.

Artist’s depiction of Eurasian searching canine attacking prey.
Illustration: Artwork made by Mauricio Antón with the scientific supervision by D. Lordkipanidze and B. Martínez-Navarro.

New analysis particulars the invention of an extinct dog-like animal that lived in the Caucasus area of Europe some 1.7 million years in the past. Intriguingly, early people occupied the identical area throughout this time, prompting questions on potential interactions.

The stays are scarce—a definite jawbone fragment (with a number of tooth nonetheless connected) and a decrease first molar—but it surely was sufficient proof for Saverio Bartolini-Lucenti, a paleontologist on the University of Florence in Italy, and his colleagues to assign it as belonging to the species Canis (Xenocyon) lycaonoides. The two fragments, dated to between 1.77 million and 1.76 million years in the past, have been discovered close to Dmanisi, Georgia, they usually’re probably the earliest proof of “hunting dogs” in Europe.

My alternative of scare quotes is deliberate, as these “hunting dogs” have principally nothing to do with domesticated canine and even wolves for that matter. As Bartolini-Lucenti defined to me in an e-mail, using “dogs” in this context is a metonymy, or a determine of speech, for describing canids in normal, that’s, members of the Canidae household. Also, scientists typically use the time period “wild dogs” when describing hypercarnivorous canids just like the Asian dhole (Cuon alpinus) or the African wild canine (Lycaon pictus), he stated. By hypercarnivorous, Bartolini-Lucenti is referring to animals with diets consisting of a minimum of 70% meat.

That stated, Adam Hartstone-Rose, a professor of organic sciences at North Carolina State University and a paleontologist not related to the brand new research, stated the assigned title of the species, together with the time period “dog,” are deceptive, and probably even inaccurate. The authors of the brand new paper would’ve been higher off describing the specimen as belong to the Lycaon genus, because it’s a more in-depth relation, he argues.

Fossil fragments analyzed in the new study.

Fossil fragments analyzed in the brand new research.
Image: S. Bartolini-Lucenti.

Analysis of the lone tooth showed very little wear and tear, suggesting a young but large adult. The studied specimen weighed about 66 pounds (30 kg), which is about the size of a modern gray wolf. The big and sharp tooth found in the middle of the jaw was likely used for shredding meat, and it compares to teeth found in other canids from the same era.

Bartolini-Lucenti, along with co-author Bienvenido Martinez-Navarro from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain, speculate that Canis (Xenocyon) lycaonoides could be an ancestor species to African wild dogs living today and that it originated in eastern Asia. The new paper now seems in Scientific Reports.

The animal featured a shortened face—a function shared with each extinct and trendy wild canine and “connected to the strength of the bite and the hypercarnivorous diet,” wrote Martinez-Navarro. If this creature was like different wild canine, it seemingly had elongated legs effectively suited to monitoring down prey.

It’s a neat discover, but it surely’s the situation of this discovery that’s of explicit curiosity to the researchers. The Caucuses is typically known as the “gateway of Europe,” because it intersects with each Africa and Asia. At the identical time, fossil proof from Georgia factors to the presence of early people (most likely Homo erectus) roughly 1.8 million years in the past, which roughly coincides with the age of the brand new fossil.

“Dmanisi is an amazing place—basically a little piece of African ecology” that basically “looks like East and South Africa in terms of its animals and environmental reconstruction,” stated Hartstone-Rose. It’s additionally at a “geographic and temporal crossroad of the Old World,” so “describing a fantastic carnivore to go along with the amazing hominins from there is exciting,” he stated.

Not solely that, hunting dogs are one of the most interesting modern dog species—the most hypercarnivorous, the best runners (they have anatomical adaptations for distance running that exceed any found in other dog species), and they occupy an interesting ecological niche near the top of the African [food web] along with lions, leopards, and hyenas,” wrote Hartstone-Rose. “While we know all of this about this amazing animal, their fossil record is convoluted and confusing. The authors of this paper are among the leaders that have, for decades, been trying to sort this mess out.”

Interestingly, as early people have been migrating from Africa into Europe and Asia, these wild canine have been making the identical trek, although in the wrong way. The social, cooperative, and altruistic nature of each people and canids, the research authors argue, seemingly made these journeys attainable. Martinez-Navarro stated it’s “fascinating to see how successful organisms” like early hominins and these wild canine, “relied on other pack-member to survive, and how this behaviour helped them disperse from their centers of origin.”

Jaakko Pohjoismäki, a biologist from the University of Eastern Finland who wasn’t concerned in the brand new research, thought it vital to level out that the researchers, when referring to altruism, “mean mutual aid between the members of the group, not between groups or species.”

Although not mentioned by the researchers, Pohjoismäki stated it’s “tempting to speculate that this convergent social behaviour might be the basis for human-domestic dog cooperation as well.” Modern domesticated canine are descended from Eurasian wolves—one other social animal—and “they are not related to the species group discussed in the paper, apart from being canids,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Early people and wild canine might have lived in the identical neighborhood throughout this time interval, however as Hartstone-Rose identified, that doesn’t imply the canine lived with people.

“Think of it this way, if I am buried here in North Carolina, my bones might be found along with those of black bears and bobcats, even though I may never have even seen these animals near my home,” he defined. “Living alongside an animal does not necessarily imply interaction.”

Indeed, it appears unlikely that these two species cooperated with one another, and it appears extra seemingly that people have been prey to those wolf-like hypercarnivores. Regardless, the brand new paper presents some fascinating meals for thought, and the fascinating chance that early people gazed upon dog-like creatures effectively over one million years earlier than the rise of domesticated canine.

More: Too much meat during ice age winters gave rise to dogs.

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