For more than 32,000 years, dogs have been our faithful companions, living, eating and breathing with us as we moved from cave-dwellers to city-builders.
Around this time, we lost our closest cousins – and, many argue, our competitors: Neanderthal man, who had previously occupied present-day Europe for a staggering
Now, an anthropologist is suggesting these two facts may be related – and it was our close friendship with our canine associates that tipped the balance in favor of modern man.
Pat Shipman said that the advantages that domesticating a dog brought for us were so fundamental to our own evolution, that it made us ‘top dog’ out of the competing primate species.
Shipman analyzed the results of excavations of fossilized canine bones from Europe, during the time when humans and Neanderthals overlapped.
The research first established a framework to our early ‘best friend’ relationships, with early humans adding dog teeth to jewelry, showing how they were worshipped, and rarely adorning cave art with images of dogs – implying dogs were treated with a reverence not shown to the animals they hunted.
The advantages dogs gave early man were huge – the animals themselves were likely to be larger than our modern day pooches, at least the size of German Shepherds.
Because of this, they could be used as ‘beasts of burden’, carrying animal carcasses and supplies from place to place, leaving humans to reserve their energies for the hunt.
In return, the animals gained warmth, food and companionship, or, as Shipman puts it, ‘a virtuous circle of cooperation’.
They may also have influenced how we communicate. Humans and dogs are the only animals which have large ‘whites of the eyes’, and will follow the gaze of another person. This has not been found in other species, and it is argued that, as our man-dog relationship evolved, we learned to use these non-verbal cues more often.
As such, dogs became one of the first tools, or technologies, that humanity began to use, and as the relationship developed both ways, it became a lot more deeply ingrained into our psyche.
And, in those early days where every advantage was needed to survive, Neanderthal man might simply have been unable to cope with the new species which rapidly moved across Europe.
In short, Shipman said: ‘Animals were not incidental to our evolution into Homo sapiens – They were essential to it. They are what made us human.’
Attribution: Eddie Wrenn