Human beings began living alongside dogs as early as 11,500 years ago and they may also have started getting help in hunting, a study of animal bones from northeast Jordan has shown. Dogs were domesticated by humans as early as 14,000 years ago in the Near East, but whether this was accidental or on purpose is so far not clear.
The study of animal bones from the 11,500-year-old settlement "Shubayqa 6" in northeast Jordan by Denmark's University of Copenhagen not only suggests that dogs were present in this region at the start of the Neolithic period, but that humans and dogs likely hunted animals together.
"The study revealed a large proportion of bones with unmistakable signs of having passed through the digestive tract of another animal; these bones are so large that they cannot have been swallowed by humans, but must have been digested by dogs," explained study's lead author Lisa Yeomans, a zooarchaeologist from the varsity.
The findings, published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, showed that the dogs were living together. "The dogs were not kept at the fringes of the settlement, but must have been closely integrated into all aspects of day-to-day life and allowed to freely roam around the settlement, feeding on discarded bones and defecating in and around the site," Yeomans explained.
The team also noted a curious increase in the number of hares at the time that dogs appeared at "Shubayqa 6". Hares were hunted for their meat, but the inhabitants of "Shubayqa 6" also used the hare bones to make beads. It is likely that the appearance of dogs and the increase in hares are related, the researchers said.
"The use of dogs for hunting smaller, fast prey such as hares and foxes, perhaps driving them into enclosures, could provide an explanation that is in line with the evidence we have gathered," Yeomans noted. "The shift may also be associated with a change in hunting technique from a method, such as netting, that saw an unselective portion of the hare population captured, to a selective method of hunting in which individual animals were targeted. This could have been achieved by dogs."
(With inputs from agencies.)