The Co-Opting Animal

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A fascinating NOVA program about dogs, DNA, and canine-human interactions included this amazing series of speculations.

GREGER LARSON: The original genetic dates that were coming out seemed to suggest that domestication was happening on a far earlier timescale than was suggested by anything in the archaeological record. The first dates that were coming out were on the order of a hundred-thousand years or more, which a lot of archaeologists raised their eyebrows at.

NARRATOR: It’s hotly debated exactly when dogs were domesticated, but geneticists and archeologists agree on one thing: our relationship with dogs goes back thousands of years further than with any other pet.

A fascinating NOVA program about dogs, DNA, and canine-human interactions included this amazing series of speculations.

GREGER LARSON: The original genetic dates that were coming out seemed to suggest that domestication was happening on a far earlier timescale than was suggested by anything in the archaeological record. The first dates that were coming out were on the order of a hundred-thousand years or more, which a lot of archaeologists raised their eyebrows at.

NARRATOR: It’s hotly debated exactly when dogs were domesticated, but geneticists and archeologists agree on one thing: our relationship with dogs goes back thousands of years further than with any other pet.

It was a time when we were still hunter-gatherers.

PETER ROWLEY-CONWY: Dogs were certainly the first animal to be domesticated, and they fit into hunting and gathering societies probably better than any other species out there.

GREGER LARSON: At this stage, when we’re hunting and gathering and killing wild animals, after you finish with them, you’re creating a relatively large pile of bone and leftover meat, things that these wolves would have been very attracted to. Those wolves that were able to take advantage of that resource and were a little bit less afraid and could approach the human camp were then setting themselves up into a closer relationship with humans.

PETER ROWLEY-CONWY: We are carnivores; we are social carnivores. We hunt in groups, and we hunt in daylight. There are not many other species that do that. The wolf is a social carnivore that hunts by daylight, and, therefore, I think there’s natural potential for teamwork between those two species.

GREGER LARSON: We became much better hunters with dogs. We are more successfully taking down large game, which means we have more food to eat, which means we can have more offspring, which means the overall populations of humans grow.

NARRATOR: Dog domestication may have helped pave the way for a fundamental change in human lifestyle.

PETER ROWLEY-CONWY: It’s hard to see how early herders would have moved and protected and guarded their flocks without domestic dogs being in place. And one has to wonder whether agriculture would ever really have made it as a viable alternative to hunting and gathering.

NARRATOR: Some believe that the influence of dogs on our development was not just important but pivotal.

GREGER LARSON: Dogs absolutely turn the tables. Without dogs, humans would still be hunter gatherers, and without that initial starting phase of dog domestication, civilization just would not have been possible.

So, humans are the animals that co-opt other animals?

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Filed under: Academia, PBS, Science, TV Tagged: dogs, evolution, genetics, nova



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