Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Hereby Bequeath You My Dog

Nicholas Wade writes about the possible locale of the earliest dog domestication and its impact on human societies:

Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.

Figure below (see link for explanation) depicts the genetic relationships between dog breeds to wolves.

Close proximity to animals and its impact on both biological and cultural evolution of humans is increasingly being appreciated and studied. In a sense domestication goes both ways...e.g. was inter-tribe /clan/family violence moderated by the presence of dogs protecting settlements?

Here is a link to the paper in Nature and if you want to listen to one of the lead scientists Robert K. Wayne I dug out this old talk on NPR on dog evolution and domestication. Its worth a listen.

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