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Tag: prehistoric

Bear dogs once roamed Texas, or, why it’s important to check that miscellany drawer

beardog

Every home has at least one — that drawer in which you place things that have no assigned place: rubber bands, soy sauce packets, take-out menus, the owner’s manual to that extinct VHS player you bought in the 1980s.

Such drawers become a crypt for things you mostly didn’t need to keep in the first place, but often there are some forgotten treasure mixed in with them.

The importance of revisiting the miscellany drawer from time to time is displayed in this story — about a researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago, new on the job, whose opening of a drawer of miscellaneous and not fully identified carnivore fossils led to the establishment of not just one new genus, but two and, in doing so, a better understanding of the evolution of dogs and other mammals.

“I had just started at the Field, and I was getting the lay of the land, exploring our collections,” Susumu Tomiya said. “In one room of type specimens, the fossils used as a standard to describe their species, I stumbled across something that looked unusual.

“There were beautiful jaws of a small carnivore, but the genus the specimen had been assigned to didn’t seem to fit some of the features on the teeth. It made me suspect that it belonged to a very different group of carnivores.”

That specimen, and a similar one Tomiya came across, had both been found 30 years ago in southwest Texas.

beardog-jawBoth had been labeled as belonging to a genus called Miacis, but Tomiya’s suspicions — based on the apparent sharpness of their teeth — turned out to be right.

The findings were revealed last week in a paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Tomiya and his coauthor used a computed tomography (CT) scanner to create 3D visualizations, and determined the specimens were those of amphicyonids, and the oldest known members of that family, which went extinct 2 million years ago.

Amphicyonids, commonly called bear dogs, are believed to be the ancestors of both bears and dogs.

“Ever since amphicyonids were given their common name, they have been overshadowed by the bear and dog families, which are more widespread, better known today, and less extinct! Our study provides a renewed sense of identity to a group that left their own mark during their 38-million-year history,” Tseng said.

Amphicyonids ranged from the size of a Chihuahua to the size of a brown bear.

They tended to get larger throughout their evolutionary history, which might have contributed to their extinction.

(At top, artist’s reconstruction of a 38 million year old amphicyonid, by Monika Jurik; lower photo, the jawbone of an amphicyonid; both provided by The Field Museum)

Dig this: Uncovered tooth shows Mesolithic man took road trips — and with dogs

stonehenge

Archaeologists say they have uncovered evidence that dogs weren’t just already domesticated by man 7,000 years ago, but they were taking road trips with him as well.

They say a dog’s tooth found one mile from Stonehenge is the earliest evidence of people traveling to the site of the prehistoric monument — even before its famous rock formation was constructed, believed to be 5,000 years ago.

An isotope analysis of the tooth’s enamel at Durham University showed the dog originally hailed from York, or at least had consumed water there. Bones found near the site suggest the dog feasted on salmon, trout, pike, wild pig and red deer.

toothThe dog most likely resembled a German shepherd, but with a more distinctly wolf-like appearance.

Researchers believe the dog made the 250-mile trip from York to Wiltshire 7,000 years ago with a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer.

Possibly, they say, he was taking it there to trade.

Archaeologist David Jacques, who leads the team digging at an encampment site called Blick Mead, said the findings show that dogs were domesticated by Mesolithic times, and that, contrary to popular thought, man was doing some long distance travel back then.

And it shows that what’s now the world’s most famous prehistoric monument was drawing people from afar even before whoever arranged those rocks arranged those rocks.

“The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built,” said Jacques, a senior research fellow at the University of Buckingham.

As the decade-long dig continues, The Guardian reported, evidence is accumulating that Stonehenge — as long as 7,000 years ago — was a gathering place.

“It makes us wonder if this place is a hub point, a really important place for the spread of ideas, new technologies and probably genes,” Jacques said.

Our guess? It was a flea market.

Does doggy bling date to prehistoric times?

burieddog

A new study suggests the earliest domestic dogs weren’t just kept for hunting and protection, but for loving — a premise supported by evidence that some prehistoric pet owners actually outfitted their dogs in bling, if not before death, at least after it.

An analysis of ancient dog burials, published in PLoS ONE, found that deceased dogs were often laid to rest not just with respect, but with toys and ornaments, Jennifer Viegas reports on Discovery.com.

The findings show that, at least as recently as 10,000 years ago, dogs were valued for more than their ability to stand sentry and track game.

The researchers also say the earliest dog lovers were fish-eaters, and held spiritual beliefs. Subsisting on diets rich in seafood, they apparently didn’t rely on dogs to help them find dinner, or as dinner.

“Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,” Robert Losey, lead author of the study told Discovery News.

“If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals,” Losey, a University of Alberta anthropologist, added. “Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions.”

For the study, Losey’s team researched dog burials worldwide, but focused particularly on ones located in Eastern Siberia. The earliest known domesticated dog was found there, dating to 33,000 years ago. Dog burials in the region are more recent, going back about 10,000 years.

They found that dogs were sometimes buried with meaningful items, sometimes even their human, showing that man’s bond with dog — while it may be ever-strengthening — goes way, way back.

According to the Discovery report:

“…One dog, for example, was laid to rest “much like it is sleeping.” A man was buried with two dogs, one carefully placed to the left of his body, and the other to the right. A dog was buried with a round pebble, possibly a toy or meaningful symbol, placed in its mouth. Still other dogs were buried with ornaments and implements, such as spoons and stone knives.

“One of the most interesting burials contains a dog wearing a necklace made out of four red deer tooth pendants. Such necklaces appear to have been a fashion and/or symbolic trend at the time, since people wore them too.”

The researchers found that most of the dog burials in the area occurred during the Early Neolithic era, about 8,000 years ago.

(Photo by Robert Losey, via Discovery.com)