OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.
Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.
New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.
And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.
As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.
The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.
The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.
Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.
“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”
The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.
Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.
“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.
(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)