Researcher uncovers evidence that human & dog love goes back further than you’d think
By Leslie Phelan
Do you ever wonder how and why dogs seem to have such a magical way of relating to us, even mirroring us, as if they were some kind of furry, playful extension of our own souls? Most people presume that the close and personal relationship between canines and humans goes back at least a few centuries of best-friend bonding, but one Canadian archaeologist on field research in arctic Russia has decided to look a bit deeper, to set out to prove just how far into history this interspecies relationship really goes.
While visiting a massive excavation site near Lake Baikal, Siberia, fifteen years ago, Rob Losey from the University of Alberta started his research into the connection between dogs and people based on what was discovered underneath the lake bed of the largest freshwater lake in the world. Buried deep underground was a trove of ancient burial sites that held some of the earliest evidence of dog domestication, carbon-tested to date somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 years old.
This discovery has shed light on many previously unanswered questions about how some of the wild wolves of ancient times came to evolve over thousands of years to become the gentle house dogs we know and love today.
“Initially this was up to the wolves,” said Losey. “Some groups of wolves started to forage around human living places, feeding off of human waste, and over time some of those animals evolved to have less fear of humans.”
The ancient graves of early people gave a fascinating peek not just into the number of people who would have counted dogs as members of the family, but also into the stature and role a dog held within the family.
“I think they were working companions, engaging with people in their everyday tasks whether it was hunting or hauling things, or protecting people from other humans or animals,” he said, adding that dogs appear to have been part of the working group as symbiotic partners that offered the same kind of emotional companionship that people seek today when they get a dog.
“For about a thousand-year period, people were regularly burying their dogs, and not only were they burying them, they were burying them in cemeteries, in exactly the same way they were burying their human dead,” said Losey. “They would make a grave for them, they would bury them with other items. They obviously were well cared for.”
Losey says that in his excavations and studies, he and his team were able to use chemical analysis to ascertain that ancient dogs did, in fact, eat the same diet as their people, suggesting that they were considered their humans’ equals. Beyond that, they found many dogs buried wearing jewelry, keepsakes, and trinkets, some even laid in their final resting spots in the very same grave as their owners, side-by side.
So, the next time you visit your favorite pet stuff shop and feel intensely compelled to buy Rover a fresh collar, jacket, and leash just to pimp a pup out, you can feel better knowing that wanting to spoil your mutt is basically a human instinct, after all these thousands of years of solid love.