ANIMALS AS DOMESTICATES
A World View through History
By Juliet Clutton-Brock
Michigan State University Press
Copyright © 2012 Juliet Clutton-Brock
All right reserved.
Chapter One Eurasia after the Ice
Around 20,000 years ago the Northern Hemisphere was in the grip of the coldest phase of the last Ice Age, the Neanderthal race of humans (Homo neanderthalensis) was almost extinct, and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) were living as hunter-gatherers in small groups wherever the icy cold allowed them to find food and shelter. But the world was warming up, and in "fits and starts" over the next 5,000 years the huge ice sheets that covered the land and sea were beginning to melt. Between 17,000 and 13,000 years ago a few families in western Russia and central Europe must have been keeping tame wolf pups because the remains of canids that are morphologically different from the bones and teeth of wolves begin to appear on archaeological sites, along with the skeletal remains of wild horses and other animals that had been hunted for food.
The archaeozoological evidence indicates that wolves were the first species to be domesticated, and it is not difficult to see why, for the gray wolf (Canis lupus), progenitor of all dogs, is a ubiquitous species that was originally distributed over the entire Northern Hemisphere. Wolves can flourish in lands that vary from the deserts of Arabia to the Arctic tundra. While Eurasia was still covered in ice sheets, wolves that became dogs, being carnivores and scavengers, could live off the detritus around the temporary camps of nomadic human hunters, even where the winter temperature reached minus 30 degrees Celsius or even lower, and they could travel over any distances in a symbiotic relationship with their human companions.
With the advance of molecular science there have been several major studies of the genetic history of dogs and the relationships of breeds. One of the earliest of these, by Carles Vilà and colleagues in 1997, caused much controversy with its premise that the genetic separation between wolf and dog occurred around 135,000 years ago, which is before the emergence of anatomically modern humans. Until recently there has been no morphological evidence for the presence of a separate canid that could be described as "dog" before around 17,000 years ago. However, a multidisciplinary study of canid remains from Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, Ukraine, and Russia appears to show that there were "dogs" that could be distinguished from wolves living on some sites 30,000 years ago. The most spectacular canid find from these sites is, however, later in date. It is from the Epigravettian Eliseevich I site on the Russian plain, and has an age of around 13,900 years. There, a dog skull, one of two, was found in a hearth deposit near a concentration of mammoth skulls. Its braincase had been perforated on the left and right sides, and cut marks are present on the zygomatic and frontal bones. With the exception of the canines and some premolars, all its teeth are missing. In addition, the left and right carnassial teeth were apparently removed by cutting into the alveoli. It should be noted, however, that even if it can be proved with some certainty from morphological and genetic analyses that there were "dogs" in the Palaeolithic 30,000 years ago, this is still 100,000 years after the claim of Vilà and colleagues for a genetic divergence between wolf and dog at the very early date of 135,000 years ago.
The problem with believing in the establishment of a race of canid evolved from but genetically separate and morphologically distinct from the wolf is that the "dogs" would have to be reproductively isolated over many generations from their progenitor, the wolf. It is difficult to see how this could be brought about with the small number of "dogs" that would be living as commensals with nomadic hunters in the Ice Age tundra. When a bitch came into oestrus, she would be mated by the local wolves, and her puppies would not retain the changed behavioral patterns of tameness and lack of aggression that enabled their mother to live in close association with a human group.
The coldest phase of the last Ice Age was between 20,000 and 12,000 years ago when the tundra of northern Europe and Asia was dominated by the "mammoth fauna." This is the name given to the assemblage of large mammals whose remains are commonly identified from geological and archaeological deposits of this period. The main species besides mammoths were bison, rhinoceros, horse, and reindeer, and it was these mammals that were painted with such wonderful artistry on the rock walls of caves in what is now France and Spain. Besides this megafauna there were many smaller mammals such as wolf, boar, wolverine, hyena, and pika, but so far no paintings of "dogs" have been identified.
At the Last Glacial Maximum, around 20,000 years ago, small groups of human hunters and their families were eking out a living in the freezing cold of the tundra. The remains of their habitation sites have been excavated in the Ukraine, from where the remains of their shelters have been found, built out of mammoth bones, tusks, and hides. In more southerly parts of Europe the hunters were living a nomadic existence following herds of wild horses and reindeer. The site of the Roche de Solutré in the southern part of Burgundy in France is famous for its skeletal remains of vast numbers of wild horses, but also of bison and reindeer that were killed by Palaeolithic hunters between around 55,000 and 12,000 years ago. It was originally believed that herds of horses must have been driven to their deaths over the rocky cliff, but recent interpreters suggest it is more likely that small bands of horses were either driven up to the rock and slaughtered there or were driven into a corrallike enclosure. In the later period it is quite probable that the hunters were helped in the drives by dogs. No skeletal remains of dogs have been excavated from the site, but then it is unlikely that dogs would have died at the rock, which was a specialized place of slaughter for horses.
MEDITERRANEAN ISLAND FAUNA IN THE UPPER PLEISTOCENE
During the Upper Pleistocene, southern Europe and the Mediterranean islands lay outside the zone of extreme cold. These islands had also been isolated in the deep Mediterranean Sea for millions of years, and many had evolved endemic species of animals and plants that were markedly different from their ancient ancestors on the mainland of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The best known of the animals were the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants, whose skeletal remains have been commonly found on Sicily, Sardinia, Crete, Cyprus, Malta, and Rhodes. The dwarfism of the several species of elephants and hippos, identified from their fossil remains, is assumed to have evolved from natural selection due to the restricted diet and lack of predators.
On Sardinia, there was an endemic jackallike canid, and great numbers of an endemic and unique goatlike herbivore, named Myotragus balearicus, were living on the Balearic Islands. These may have survived until the first people reached Mallorca and Minorca in the Neolithic. William Waldren, excavator of the cave sites where great numbers of bones and horn cores of this strange "goat" were found, believed that the Neolithic immigrants had made some attempt to domesticate the animals. However, if this endemic "goat" did survive until around 2000 BCE (suggested by radiocarbon dating), this late date was unlike that for all the other endemic species of mammals on the Mediterranean islands in the Upper Pleistocene. These all appear to have become extinct soon after the great warm-up that began 12,000 years ago.
The great question is: did the extinctions occur as a result of the dramatic climate change, or were they caused by the first human hunters to arrive on the islands? Neither radiocarbon dating nor archaeozoology has so far succeeded in answering this question, nor have they fully done so for the extinction of the mammoth fauna of the whole Northern Hemisphere. There is, however, one cultural legacy to survive from the fossil skulls of the dwarf elephants that have been frequently found on the islands since the beginnings of Greek writing. The skull of an elephant has a single large round cavity in the frontal bone, the nasal orifice, to which the muscles of the trunk are attached, and it is now generally believed that this cavity gave rise to the legend of the land of the Cyclops, the one-eyed giants in Homer's Odyssey. In about 800 BCE, when writing in ancient Greek first appears, and when it is assumed that Homer's Odyssey and Iliad were first written down, the skulls of dwarf elephants would often have been found in the island caves, and the legend would easily have been spread throughout ancient Greece that they were the skulls of one-eyed giants.
There is no evidence of human beings in Britain at the Glacial Maximum or for the following 5,000 years while northern Europe began to warm up. The first hunters arrived at about 12700 BCE when Britain and Ireland were still very much a part of northern Europe, with an encircling coastline that was joined to Scandinavia. This meant that there was free movement of animals and people for hundreds of miles from south to north once the ice had gone. However, the rapid growth and spread of deciduous forests soon created a new barrier. After the final cold snap of the Ice Age, in the period known as the Younger Dryas, the temperature rose by 7 degrees Celsius, and by 10,000 years ago, dated by pollen analysis and radiocarbon, Europe entered the Preboreal phase for 1,000 years. This was followed by the Boreal phase of the current epoch, the Holocene, from 9,000 to 8,000 years ago. By the end of the Boreal the melting ice had caused dramatic rises in sea level, and Ireland had been cut off from Britain and Europe for some hundreds of years. The English Channel broke through at the end of the Boreal, and the North Sea cut off the east coast from northern Europe, which meant that the people, animals, and plants that had moved into Britain became isolated.
Over the whole of Europe by this time, the Ice Age megafauna were extinct or driven to the far north of Europe and Asia. A small population of mammoths had clung on in a dwarf form on Wrangel Island, north of Siberia (extinct by 4,000 years ago), while reindeer had retreated to where they could feed on the mosses and lichens that are their specialized diet. Herds of wild horses still roamed over open land, but probably not in the huge numbers that grazed on the Ice Age tundra. However, the lands of Europe and Asia were not empty of large mammals; there was a replacement fauna of wild cattle, aurochs, several species of deer, wild boar, bears, and wolves, as well as the wild horses and a new species of forest bison. There were no species of sheep or goats in Europe, but several in Asia. All these species of mammals were soon to have their populations drastically altered in numbers and distribution by human impact, either by burning of the landscape, hunting, or domestication.
The dramatic change in the large mammal fauna at the end of the Ice Age was followed by replacement of the Palaeolithic nomadic hunters by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who began to live a settled existence and began to cultivate plants and enfold animals into their societies all over the Northern Hemisphere. The Palaeolithic hunters' primary method of killing large prey had been by short-range stabbing with large stone axes. This also changed with the Mesolithic hunters, who used long-range missiles in the form of bows and arrows that were tipped with small, very sharp flint flakes (microliths). It very probably became more and more common for the hunters to use dogs to track the wounded prey.
During the early Mesolithic in Europe, around 9,000 years ago, dogs were the only species of animal whose remains show osteological evidence of human association from their small size and compacted teeth in the jawbones. They must have been a rare accompaniment to the human settlements, which were still only temporary camps. One of the earliest Mesolithic dogs has been identified from a complete skull excavated from the Early Mesolithic site of Bedburg-Königshoven (9,000–8,000 years ago) in the Rhineland (Germany). Similar remains of dogs have been found from the numerous waterlogged Mesolithic sites in Denmark, where the period is known as the Maglemosian.
Perhaps the most famous of all European Mesolithic sites is Star Carr in Yorkshire, England. This was a hunting camp on the edge of a lake that was occupied periodically for a few centuries, more than 9,000 years ago, by groups of people who left everything they used and the remains of all the animals they killed to be preserved in the lakeshore mud. Their belongings, which were excavated in the 1950s, included wonderfully complete masks cut from the frontal bones of red deer stags with the antlers thinned down and with holes at the side for tying onto the hunter's face. It is presumed that the masks were either worn by the hunters as decoys in the chase of red deer or perhaps they were also worn in ritual dances. Together with all the fascinating debris left by the hunters, there was the nearly complete skull of a large wolf, the partial skull of a young dog of about five months of age, and the left and right femurs and a tibia of another adult dog.
More recently, in 1985, during excavation of the nearby waterlogged site of Seamer Carr, the neck vertebrae of a dog were retrieved, which match in size the skull of the subadult dog from Star Carr. These bones yielded stable carbon isotope ratios of -14.67 percent and -16.97 percent, which reveal that the dog had obtained a significant part of its food from a marine source. Because the site of Seamer Carr, although a few hundred years later in date, was comparable with Star Carr and yielded very similar animal remains, it was at first postulated that the Mesolithic inhabitants who lived at the two sites also spent much of their year nearer the coast and subsisted on fishing. However, a recent carbon isotope analysis of bone samples from a number of species from Star Carr, including the dog and wolf, has shown that they all have much higher carbon isotope ratios with an average of -22 percent. This shows that, although there were no human remains at Star Carr, it can be deduced that the hunters' diet at this rather earlier site was from terrestrial animals, and there were plenty of deer and other mammals and birds around the lake to support the human community. Over the next 100 years the wildlife may have become scarce (perhaps from overhunting), so the people had to move away, and Seamer Carr was only a temporary camp for hunters who spent more time at the coast as fishermen. Certainly, there have never again been finds in such prolific numbers and diversity of species at any other inland site as are represented from Star Carr. Besides the remains of aurochs (Bos primigenius), wild horse, and red deer, the large herbivores that were hunted included the latest dated remains in Britain of the elk (or moose, the largest of all deer, Alces alces).
In the early Mesolithic of northern Europe there is no evidence for the cultivation of plants or for the domestication of any species of animal other than the dog. Britain was still joined in short stretches to the Continent, and there was still an abundance of large herbivores that could be hunted: aurochs, wild horse, red deer, and wild boar, while the shorelines could provide a munificence of seafood. Ireland, however, was cut off by the sea, and although hunter-gatherers had reached it and were living there, the only large mammals that could provide meat were red deer and wild boar, and it is possible that even these had been taken there by people in their boats.
The economy of the inland-living Mesolithic people of Britain and much of Europe was based on the red deer (Cervus elaphus), which provided them with meat for food, hides for clothing and shelter, and bone and antler for tools and weapons. Farther north and up into the Arctic, human populations depended (and still depend) on the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) for all their resources. Of all the manifold relationships that humans have had with hoofed animals, that with reindeer is unique, and it has also had the longest duration. From 20,000 years ago until the melting of the ice, reindeer were hunted as they lived and migrated over Europe, as far south as Spain. By the beginning of the Holocene, 10,000 years ago, the reindeer, which are supremely adapted in their physiology and diet to life in arctic conditions, had retreated to northern and arctic Europe and Asia.
Excerpted from ANIMALS AS DOMESTICATES by Juliet Clutton-Brock Copyright © 2012 by Juliet Clutton-Brock. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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