Dawn of the Dog Article

A dog skull sits on a disk, as scientists prepare to photograph it for geometric morphometrics.

A dog skull sits on a disk, as scientists prepare to photograph it for geometric morphometrics.

A very important and fascinating subject to undertake.  Here’s an interesting new article about the domestication of dogs from Science.

Science Magazine

Greger Larson holds a wolf skull at the Oxford Museum of Natural History (top). Ardern Hulme-Beaman (bottom) examines an ancient dog jawbone (middle).

Dogs were the very first thing humans domesticated—before any plant, before any other animal. Yet despite decades of study, researchers are still fighting over where and when wolves became humans’ loyal companions. “It’s very competitive and contentious,” says Jean-Denis Vigne, a zooarchaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, who notes that dogs could shed light on human prehistory and the very nature of domestication. “It’s an animal so deeply and strongly connected to our history that everyone wants to know.”

PHOTO: ARDERN HULME-BEAMAN, PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE SWEDISH MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (2)

PHOTO: ARDERN HULME-BEAMAN, PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE SWEDISH MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (2)

Money proved a great motivator. Though dogs loom large in the public consciousness, they don’t tend to loosen the purse strings of funding organizations. As a result, many scientists work on them as only a hobby or side project, piggybacking on funding from other grants. But Larson and Dobney made a strong case to European funding agencies in 2012, arguing that the domestication of dogs set the stage for taming an entire host of plants and animals. “We said, without dogs you don’t have any other domestication,” Larson says. “You don’t have civilization.”

The skeletons of a human and dog (upper left) discovered underneath a 12,000-year-old home in northern Israel are early evidence of the human-canine bond.

The skeletons of a human and dog (upper left) discovered underneath a 12,000-year-old home in northern Israel are early evidence of the human-canine bond.

For the first time, we’re going to be able to look at some of these strange skulls like the Goyet skull and figure out how strange they really are,” he says. “Are they wolves becoming dogs, or are they just unusual wolves?” Combining the two approaches, he says, should allow the collaboration to home in on just where dogs came from—and when this happened.

“Archaeology is storytelling,” Hulme-Beaman says. “I think we’re going to be able to tell a great story.”

Read the short article HERE or download the full PDF HERE.

Reference: Science 17 April 2015:
Vol. 348 no. 6232 pp. 274-279
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6232.274

Revisiting the Vero Beach Mammoth

We, at the Clovis site, have a tie to Vero Beach through the work of Dr. Elias Sellards.  Much of his work in New Mexico was forty years later but we owe a great debt to his research out here.

Mastodon bone inscribed with image of a mastodon shown by amateur collector James Kennedy of Vero Beach, Florida, NOT A SMITHSONIAN SPECIMEN.

Detail of the mammoth engraving on the unidentified megafauna bone.  Click the image to link to the earlier article.

I hope we find more paleoindian art as it is mysterious to me why there is so little in the Americas.

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Compare the Vero Beach mammoth to these from Grotte de Rouffignac, France. Striking similarity in the simple depiction of a mammoth family.

Another fine mammoth depiction from ca 14,000 years ago.

Another fine mammoth depiction from ca 14,000 years ago in the Grotte de Rouffignac.  Maybe the French were already raising the bar in art.

 

References:

 

Lepper, Bradley

“Mammoth Engraved on Bone from Florida,” Mammoth Trumpet (27) 1 January 2012

 

Sellards, E.H.

“Human Remains and Associated Fauna from the Pleistocene of Florida,” Florida State Geological Survey 1916.

Bison

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The signature species of the Great Plains of North America.

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They were utilized in abundance by prehistoric people and are extremely common at the Clovis site. The hunting traps at Blackwater Draw were in regular use for thousands of years.

“After nine days’ march I reached some plains, so vast that I did not find their limit anywhere that I went, although I traveled over them for more than 300 leagues. And I found such a quantity of cows in these, of the kind that I wrote Your Majesty about, which they have in this country, that it is impossible to number them, for while I was journeying through these plains, until I returned to where I first found them, there was not a day that I lost sight of them.”

Vázquez de Coronado writing to king Carlos of Spain, 1541

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Thevet’s engraving of “The Buffalo”, Antwerp 1558. This is the oldest known depiction of an American bison by a European.

A Bison Trap at the Clovis Site (poster)

Bison Trap_S.BennettAn excellent poster about Ms. Bennett’s work on the South Bank Bison Trap at the Clovis Site.  Click the image for a larger image or the following for a full pdf:

Bison Trap_S.Bennett_10-7-2013_smallest

Bioarchaeology Link: Powered by Osteons

PBO-version1A Bone Girl Blog

Powered by Osteons is an interesting bioarchaeology website with a focus on Rome but with a remarkably broad set of interests.  I have only scratched the surface myself.

Dr Kristina Killgrove is an “assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of West Florida.  My educational background includes degrees in Latin (BA, University of Virginia), Classical Archaeology (BA, University of Virginia; MA, UNC Chapel Hill), and Anthropology (MA, East Carolina University; PhD, UNC Chapel Hill).  I have a strong commitment to interdisciplinary work, as my research and teaching bridge the sometimes large divide between classics and anthropology.Dr is an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of West Florida.”

From her website:

“I am trained as a classical bioarchaeologist, and therefore am one of the few scholars who has started to answer questions about the ancient Romans using their skeletons. My research has focused primarily on immigration to Rome and urban collapse at Gabii during the Imperial period (1st-4th centuries AD). This work blends anthropological theory, biochemical analysis, and classical archaeology to find out more about people rarely represented in the historical record of the Roman world: immigrants, women, children, and slaves.”

Currently, I am an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of West Florida.”

Her professional link is here: http://killgrove.org/

Go forth and learn some of the latest in bioarchaeology.

Rancho La Brea Photo Album

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Wandering scholars discover the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits.

Recent travels allowed for a quick visit to the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.  Now in their one hundredth year of excavation, the site has yielded over 600 species to date with a NISP of over 3.5 million (not counting over 200 bacteria).  It’s a remarkable place and I feel privileged to to have been given an excellent tour by Dr John Harris and Curator Gary Takeuchi.  Tar still bubbles and oozes and excavations continue, thanks in part to continuing growth of this highly urbanized area.

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Chuck and George with Dr John Harris and Gary Takeuchi

Although most of the tar seeps are closed off for safety, a couple can be accessed with a guide.  The surface is just as deceptive as it is described and is often covered with leaves and dirt.  The tar can also be deceptively solid feeling until the incredible stickiness locks your feet to the tar.  Dr Harris provided a great example by having us poke the tar with a wooden lath.  Even though it is solid enough to resist the lath for more than a top inch or two, it is extremely difficult to pull it back out again and it’s easy to imagine a hooved animal becoming mired almost instantly to await it’s demise by large cat or wolf or even thirst.

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You just gotta poke it with a stick…

For reasons that aren’t completely clear, there are an extremely high number of predators and scavengers in the mix, implying that many carnivores may be tempted by a struggling animal but the more cautious grazers were likely scared away by their thrashing comrades.  The upshot of this is an enormous number of coyotes, wolves, saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears, and American lions as well as the full gamut of vulture-like birds filling these pits and seeps.  Below I am holding the humerus of a Smilodon fatalis, a prevalent creature at the Tar Pits.

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Examining a freshly excavated smilodon humerus (upper arm of saber-toothed cat).

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Examining the mounted saber-toothed cats.

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And of course, a mammoth.

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A couple of mastodon.

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Just a glimpse of the over 3.5 million specimens housed at the Page.

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We had a wonderful tour of the “fish-bowl” lab by Shelly Cox.  Here we examine the newly cleaned mammoth tusk.

Tusks grow like tree-rings and tell scientists a lot about the environment the creature lived in by proxy.  A section of this particular specimen has been removed for analysis already.

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Cranium of a very familiar looking mammoth. Although not found inundated in tar, there is still enough in the sediment that it is oozing from the cleaned skull.

For anyone interested in Ice Age fauna, the Page Museum is a definite “must see” stop on the journey through life.

Pagemammoth

Click the mammoth to see more from the Page Museum at http://www.tarpits.org.

First dairying in green Saharan Africa in the fifth millennium bc

Interesting stuff from Nature, 20 June 2012:

“In the prehistoric green Sahara of Holocene North Africa—in contrast to the Neolithic of Europe and Eurasia—a reliance on cattle, sheep and goats emerged as a stable and widespread way of life, long before the first evidence for domesticated plants or settled village farming communities123. The remarkable rock art found widely across the region depicts cattle herding among early Saharan pastoral groups, and includes rare scenes of milking; however, these images can rarely be reliably dated4. Although the faunal evidence provides further confirmation of the importance of cattle and other domesticates5, the scarcity of cattle bones makes it impossible to ascertain herd structures via kill-off patterns, thereby precluding interpretations of whether dairying was practiced. Because pottery production begins early in northern Africa6 the potential exists to investigate diet and subsistence practices using molecular and isotopic analyses of absorbed food residues7. This approach has been successful in determining the chronology of dairying beginning in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the Near East and its spread across Europe89,1011. Here we report the first unequivocal chemical evidence, based on the δ13C and Δ13C values of the major alkanoic acids of milk fat, for the adoption of dairying practices by prehistoric Saharan African people in the fifth millennium BC. Interpretations are supported by a new database of modern ruminant animal fats collected from Africa. These findings confirm the importance of ‘lifetime products’, such as milk, in early Saharan pastoralism, and provide an evolutionary context for the emergence of lactase persistence in Africa.”

and a nice summary here at Penn News:

PHILADELPHIA — The first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Saharan Africa used cattle for their milk nearly 7,000 years ago is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and including Kathleen Ryan of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Their work was published today in Nature

Read on…