Living With Animals: Very Old Dog Teaches New Tricks

By Hope Bidegainberry on September 27, 2019

Although we’re certainly not always kind to them, people’s feelings about dogs can be considered a long-time love affair. But when did that begin…? We now have evidence of a first date going back further than previously estimated for here in North America. Scientists recently presented a paper at the Society of American Archeology, reporting their findings of three dogs found buried in ancient graves in what today is southern Illinois. The graves are far older than anyone had previously expected for this part of the world. And the dogs’ remains show they were carefully, lovingly treated by the folks who buried them at the end of their lives.

Other ancient dog burial sites found in Texas and dating back around 8,500 years ago show evidence that the animals were butchered. This newly discovered gravesite is far older, however, close to 10,000 years before today, and the bones left indicate the three dogs died of natural causes. Each of the three dogs’ skeletal remains show that their bodies had been carefully laid upon their sides and stone tools were recovered with them. Considering how closely our two species are associated – human and dog, Homo sapiens and Canis familiaris – it should not come as a surprise that there is a whole field of canine archeology, and while these burial remains are the oldest in North America discovered to date, they are not the oldest known. Back in February, German researchers announced their own findings of 14,000 year old remains of a 6-month old puppy, found buried alongside two people. Skeletal evidence shows the pup had been nursed through illness by human caregivers before succumbing to distemper.

Although dogs and humans have clearly changed each other over the long course of evolutionary time, it is no longer believed that dogs and humans found each other in one moment of prehistory. Rather, it is now believed that people domesticated dogs several times at several locations dating back as much or even more than the 15,000 years ago when it’s generally accepted that early hunter-gatherer humans, likely with dog companions, crossed the land bridge near the Bering Strait from Eurasia into the America’s far northwest, proving that dogs really do love a road trip.   

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