Man and his dog: A new discovery of carved rock images showing dogs on leashes are estimated to be 9,000 years old

A team of archaeologists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany recently discovered images of dogs engraved in rocks, which appear to be the earliest depiction of how domesticated dogs have been employed by ancient humans. The cave drawings at the Shuwaymis and Jubbah sites in northwestern Saudi Arabia depict people surrounded by a pack of dogs on leashes.

The drawings showed both people and dogs are hunting horse-like creatures. According to the researchers, the cave drawings potentially date back as early as Holocene period in the eighth millennium B.C. The experts also noted that the etchings found in the cave are reminiscent of the modern Canaan dog. Study co-author Michael Petraglia said the recent discovery marks the first time that a cave painting has portrayed an image of a dog with a leash.

“We can now say about 9,000 years ago people already controlled their dogs and had them on leashes and used them for really complex hunting strategies. The elaborate depictions of such sizeable hunting dog groups on the Arabian Peninsula, up to 21 animals in some panels, suggests a sustained, and perhaps managed, breeding population, instead of one-off-traded individuals,” lead author Maria Guagnin tells The Independent online.

Dog domestication may have started earlier than previously thought

A team of researchers at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, Sweden has purported that ancient humans may have domesticated dogs much earlier than what was previously believed. According to the experts, the domestication might have started when wolves split from their older counterparts that have since gone extinct. (Related: Dogs proven to recognize themselves through precise sense of smell.)

As part of the study, the scientists examined a small wolf bone found by lead researcher Dr. Love Dalen on the Taimyr Peninsula in northern Siberia. The research team noted that the bone specimen was radiocarbon-dated to be 35,000 years old. The experts then examined the specimen’s DNA make up and found that its genetic code resembled a cross between a wolf’s and a dog’s. Dr. Dalen noted that this might have been due to the evolutionary split between the species, which branched into the modern wolves and the wild ancestors of modern dogs.

“One scenario is that wolves started following humans around and domesticated themselves. Another is that early humans simply caught wolf cubs and kept them as pets and this gradually led to these wild wolves being domesticated. If this model is correct then dogs were domesticated by hunter-gatherers that led a fairly nomadic lifestyle. We think the simplest explanation is that dogs were domesticated at the time of the split. That the split between dogs and wolves happened around 30,000 years ago seems fairly definitive,” Dr. Dalen reports in a BBC article.

However, other scientists remain skeptical. Renowned archaeologist Dr. Greger Larson argues that results are biased as the ancient dogs might not have looked exactly the same as their modern counterparts, and may have only evolved into one only recently. However, the expert acknowledged that the dogs’ facial evolution is a continuous process.

“It probably started with an unconscious phase where wolves were gradually getting used to human populations, following them around and eating their waste products. The changes that we now ascribe that differentiate dogs and wolves may not have emerged for a very long time. There were probably small changes in many genes which makes it much more difficult to pin down,” Dr. Larson says.

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