MOTHER TONGUE
Newsletter of the Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory

Issue 25 · Summer 1995


Dog Domesticated Man: When? Where?

Our canine friends are not the only animals we have persuaded to share our lives -- pigs, horses, chickens, cows, asses, shoats, and camels are not trivial -- but Canis familiaris figures to share a great part of our prehistory too. More than the others. Actually the domesticated animals who potentially may tell us even more about our prehistory are the lice and fleas who have been with us everywhere and whose own taxonomic evolutions will correlate with our own. Then dogs have their own fleas but who will we ever get to do research on that!

On dogs we have a biogenetic expert, Robert Wayne of UCLA. Again thanks to Becky and Andy. Professor Wayne has written several recent articles on canine phylogeny, using DNA, and told me the highlights of his research on the phone. (His writings are being pursued.)

Exposed to a linguistic view that early Homo sapiens probably had dogs as friends or co-hunters, he said that "there was more than one episode of domestication", i.e. it happened several times. Exposed to an Africanist scepticism about Canis familiaris being descended from wolves --African dogs do not look so much like wolves --, his firm retort was that all domestic dogs derive from grey or timber wolves (Canis lupus). And the most divergent genetically are the "New Guinea singing dogs" and the famous dingo of Australia. Well! After being asked if he supported the usual archeological dates of, say 10-30k, for domestic canines, he agreed with those dates.

Finally, I penetrated his firm convictions by commenting on the likely age of the dingo -- 55-60k almost required with human partners Well, yes, he grasped the logic but couldn't relate that to his data.

Biogeneticists are reliable more on taxonomy than on dating, it seems. (See above Oxford meeting) Good old dating -- everyone's most difficult problem!

For the sake of alternative hypotheses of canine ancestors. Dr. Wayne was also firm about coyotes being closest to grey wolves; then jackals, except the so-called 'Semien jackal' of northern Ethiopia which is really a wolf. Still farther away are vixen and most remote our beloved African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) with their trumpet ears and ferocious hunting in packs; India's dhole (Cuon alpinus); and so-called bush dog (Speothos venat.) of Asia. It appears clear enough that early man in eastern Africa or Sundaland surely could not have domesticated grey wolves. North Africa, the Near East or northern Eurasia would have them. At a minimum the Borean sub-groups, such as Nostratic, Amerind or Afrasian, would have been in touch with 'real dogs'. Indeed those groups are the main support for the possible proto-Human reconstruction of *kuon or something like that. May we consider that sub-Saharan African experience with dogs is different and has different words? And ditto that of Sunda- / Sahul-land?

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