Small dogs & wolves in The New York Times

A few weeks ago I commented on the paper about the origin of the small dog phenotype in the Middle East. Now The New York Times has an article on a newer paper, New Finding Puts Origins Of Dogs in Middle East. Here's the conclusion:

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.

Humans are often conceived of as the selection pressure on our domesticates, but clearly this is a two-way street. Cows have strongly shaped the human genome in the form of lactase persistence. And of course there have been many pathogens which have jumped from domesticates to humans, including ones which might change human behavior. The evolutionary process in this conception is a complex series of interactive feedback loops, and the task of reconstruction is going to be a laborious, but fascinating one. And luckily, we have "control" populations who have been little impacted by domesticated animals.

Here's the letter in Nature.


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There's been some buzz over a recent paper, mtDNA Data Indicates a Single Origin for Dogs South of Yangtze River, less than 16,300 Years Ago, from Numerous Wolves. This is tracing the maternal lineage, and suggests that that lineage is most diverse in southern China (just as human lineages tend to…
As I gave a nod to statistical tricks and subtle shell games very recently, the material I review subsequently should be viewed with skepticism and caution. A few days ago I also pointed to a paper which describes and models intergenerational transfers of wealth across various societies. In other…
A few weeks ago I posted on a paper, Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe's First Farmers.Another one is out in the same vein, Ancient DNA Reveals Lack of Continuity between Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers and Contemporary Scandinavians: The driving force behind the…

I've said this before, but one more time won't hurt. We really don't know much about the period between, for example, 50,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago. In what we write it most often used to set up what we're going to say about the later period, and as a setup story, we tend to want it to be quick and snappy and be limited to a few crucial point.

We may never have enough information to tell that story in full detail, but it seems likely to me that that story has its own stages and complications and false starts and branchings and extinctions -- in other words, that it was a complex story.

Most of the recent discoveries in genetics and archeology complicate the story and destroy old, simplified setup sketches. A good example is the "diffusion from the middle east" explanation of Stonehenge. Another is the fuller version of the "out of Africa" story, with the stage in India and the extinction event. In Anthony's version of prehistory the key metallurgical locations are the SW shores of the Black Sea and N. of the Caspian sea. And so on.

If validated, these findings will add a critical dog-domestication step to the existing story. That really doesn't overthrow much of anything, but it fills in detail and makes the "setup story" take longer to tell. Which is a good thing.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 17 Mar 2010 #permalink

Which populations didn't have domestic dogs? I thought maybe North American aboriginals...but the Inuit had dogs. Not as pets, but as sled dogs. They didn't treat them well :(

Dogs are still treated very badly--left to roam in packs and fend for themselves--in aboriginal communities throughout Canada. Just recently there was a case of a child being killed by a pack of dogs in a native community. It happens quite often. I seemed to have strayed off the topic.…

It is hard to know whether the neglect of dogs (and children) in these communities is cultural, genetic, or due to most of the people being drunk most of the time. It is a sad situation all around, but it is not politically correct to talk about it so nothing gets done. Non-natives are only allowed to mention these problems to take the blame on themselves--colonialism and all that.

bushmen. the dingo are feral i think, not domestic anymore. i think the andaman islanders. and yes, the native peoples of the new world brought dogs, or had dogs. they were the primary beast of burden before horses.

I flipped open a Jean Auel book once. The paragraph I read described one cavewoman housewife entering a different cavewoman's cave and doing an instantaneous critique of the other woman's housekeeping and interior decoration skills.

"I really LOVE what you did with those mastodon skulls!!" It didn't say that, but that kind of thing.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 17 Mar 2010 #permalink

Razib, so the Bushmen do not have domesticated dogs?Regarding the Australian Aborigines, what is the history of their interaction with dogs, as the Aborigines'arrival in Australia would have preceded the domestication of the dog?

Speaking of Auel, I, too, once glanced through a copy of one of her books;it seemed to consist of turgid dialogue interrupted by periodic bouts of graphic sex. Has she ever responded to the fact that blue eyes and blond hair emerged long after her Bo Derekesque heroine Ayla would have been dust ?

dingos are new. arrived within the last 10,000 years. started out as domestics, went feral. someone who has better knowledge of AA ethnography can elaborate on whether some were stilled used as domesticates (perhaps where europeans totally replaced them?).

re: auel, she writes historical romance. i really doubt she cares that ayla could never have been, especially since ayla is also something of a macgiver.

Yes, dingoes were introduced to Australia possibly as recently as 3,500 years ago. There is no evidence of them or any other canines before then. They might have accompanied Austronesian expansion as domesticates, there is a similar dog in PNG.

Some were observed to be semi-domesticates/camp followers of AAs on arrival of Europeans. They were domesticated and cross-bred by European settlers to get sheep and cattle dogs.

They are capable of full domestication, although they need some special handling - I had one as a pet, or more like companion, from when I was 7 until I was 21 (and no kid had a better friend), and raising domesticated dingoes is now popular as a means of trying to preserve them from hybridisation.

By Sandgroper (not verified) on 18 Mar 2010 #permalink

On dingos, from the supplementary material in the Nature paper,
"Specifically, the semi-domestic dingo and New Guinea singing dog are ancient breeds that were probably established more than 4,000 years ago and have existed in isolation from wolves32."

IIRC the Dingo was introduced about 5,000 yo to Australia, and likewise the Pama-Nguyen language group - which comprises about 95% of Australian Aboriginal languages, seems to have spread about the same time - are they related, maybe?

No doubt domesticated animals significantly shaped human history and development. Lactose persistence lines up with sheep, goats, and cows. And cats...quite a mixed bag there. Social taboos led to a greater boom in the Black Death in Europe but also to an increase in toxoplasmosis (and all the bizarre behavioral side effects) in areas where cats were welcomed. Zoonoses continue to impact.

By Bejuwalla (not verified) on 18 Mar 2010 #permalink

Maybe influenza in humans came from domestic birds and/or pigs. Farming peoples might have evolved ways to resist or survive influenza. The First Nations people in Canada seem to be particularly vulnerable to influenza, as is mentioned here, for example:

"In the study, Dr. Zarychanski and colleagues also found that First Nations ethnicity was associated with severe H1N1 disease requiring ICU admission. The proportion of First Nations people increased as the severity of disease increased; 28% of confirmed H1N1 cases in the community occurred in First Nations people, compared with 54% of hospital admissions and 60% of admissions to the ICU. Similar trends have been observed in Aboriginal communities in Australia and New Zealand. This is âconsistent with historical records from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, during which mortality in Aboriginal communities was far higher than in non-Aboriginal communities,â write the authors....
...While the authors note that a genetic predisposition hypothesis is interesting, Aboriginal peoples in Canada, Australia and the Torres Strait do not share common ancestry. âWhat they do have in common is a history of colonization, combined with historic and continuing social inequities that have led to significant health disparities,â write the authors. They also suggest the increased risk for First Nations peoples may be because of substandard living conditions, low income, diet, additional health issues or lack of access to health care."


They also have a hunter-gather background in common, and a high rate of addiction to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Maybe severe susceptibility to influenza and alcoholism is the original human condition, and the peoples who practiced agriculture evolved a degree of protection. But it is always safer (in regard to grants, reputation, etc) to blame colonization rather than genetics.

Mind you I didn't read the original paper so I don't know what it says.

Check what effect the 1918 flu pandemic had on the Maori.

By Sandgroper (not verified) on 18 Mar 2010 #permalink