Samples of the Story
Note: Text extracts are from un-copyedited manuscript and may differ slightly from the printed version.
Preface and Author’s Note
HUNTERS AND THE HUNTED
WOLVES AND PEOPLE
2. Curious Neighbors and Wolf-Dogs
3. Cherished Companions
THE FARMING REVOLUTION
4. Down on the First Farms . . .
5. Working Landscapes
6. Corralling the Aurochs
7. “Wild Bull on the Rampage”
HOW THE DONKEY STARTED
8. “Average Joes”
9. The Pickup Trucks of History
THE BEASTS THAT TOPPLED EMPERORS
10. Taming Equus
11. The Horsemasters’ Legacies
12. Deposing Sons of Heaven
SHIPS OF THE DESERT
13. “Animals Designed by God”
“MILD, PATIENT, ENDURING”
14. Dominion over Beasts?
“The Hell for Dumb Animals”
16. Victims of Military Insanity
17. Cruelty to the Indispensible
18. To kill, to display, and to love . . .
Book Extracts and Table of Contents
From Chapter 3: Cherished Companions
Denmark, spring, 8000 B.C.E. The hunter crouches among the dense reeds, bow at the ready, and arrow hooked to the string. A pile of arrows lies to his right, ready for use. He watches the geese as they rest on the placid waters of the shallow lake after their arduous journey from the south. Feet in the mud, he remains motionless, waiting for some ducks to swim within arrow range. To his right, his black and brown hunting dog lies quietly, also completely still, panting gently, alert. Half a dozen ducks paddle slowly close to shore. Slowly, deliberately, the man draws his bow and takes aim. The dog remains absolutely still, watching intently. Zip, zip . . . the hunter fires once, grabs another arrow and shoots again. The startled birds take to the air, but two struggle in the water, impaled by razor sharp, flint-tipped arrows. A soft command: the dog points, then slips into the water. He swims to the struggling fowl, grabs them one by one and carries them to shore. The hunter quickly wrings their necks and puts them in a netting bag. His dog wags his tail and looks up expectantly. A pat on the head, and maybe a scrap of food, then back to the hunt as the hunter moves slowly to a new vantage point in quest of more prey. Hours later, dog and master return to camp, the last bird gripped firmly in canine jaws.
As we have seen, wolves and humans got together in many locations, some bitterly cold, others much warmer. Despite the growing, if incomplete, evidence for wolf-dogs, we still do not know precisely when people fully tamed canines. One certainly could not describe wolf-dogs are fully domesticated—if they existed at all.
What evidence do we have for actual dogs? The earliest unquestionable dog came to light in the grave of a 50-year-old man and a 20 to 25-year old woman unearthed at Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany, by quarrymen’s picks in 1914. They shattered most of the bones before archaeologists investigated the burial with methods that were extremely crude by modern standards. Unfortunately, only a jaw fragment of the 14,000 year-old beast survives.
When I excavate a burial, I always wonder what events surrounded the interment, whether animal or human. Did the deceased perish from old age, from chronic disease, or a war wound? Was he or she loved or held in contempt? Did they have children and what rituals surrounded their passing? Many of these questions can be teased from the bones, from telltale signs of injuries caused by hard work, or of serious infections, also from DNA. The Bonn-Oberkassel burial is particularly fascinating, because the earliest known dog in the world lay with two people, perhaps its master and mistress.
At fourteen thousand years ago, the Bonn-Oberkassel beast is a very ancient dog indeed. But was it a dog, or its close wild relative, a wolf? Distinguishing dogs from wolves is notoriously difficult, especially when the surviving bones are fragmentary, as they usually are. Domestic dogs are generally smaller. Their teeth and skulls display minor differences from those of wolves. To tell the two apart is challenging at best, so the experts have turned to a statistical tool known as discriminant function analysis. The researchers have designed a classifier that combines measurements from the bones from known wolves and domesticated dogs to produce spreads of measurements around an average, so that a jaw like that from Bonn-Oberkassel can be compared to the averages for both wild and domestic canids. Zooarchaeologist Norbert Benecke compared the Oberkassel jaw not only with other archaeological finds, but also with bones from Greenland wolves and specimens from zoos, even from Australian dingoes. He found that it belonged firmly in the dog category, making this find, alas sadly incomplete after the passage of a century, the earliest known domestic dog yet known.
Is Oberkassel the earliest dog in the world? Certainly not, for the changeover took hold in many locations at a time when major environmental changes caused by rapid warming at the end of the Ice Age were under way. At present, the Bonn-Oberkassel beast is the earliest known, and, lying alongside a human couple, suggests an intimate human-animal relationship, at minimum one of companionship. By fourteen thousand years ago, dogs begin to turn up in other places, too, among them settlements in the Dneiper River Basin on the Central Russian Plain. Two nearly complete skulls are about the same size as those of modern-day Great Danes, large beasts that could possibly have been wolves held in captivity, or even wolf-dogs. There are other dog finds from the Ukraine, but what is striking is that the size of dog bones falls sharply after 15,000 years ago, especially among specimens from Southwest Asia dating to around 9,000 to 10,000 years ago, by which time domesticated dogs were commonplace and significantly smaller than wolves (see sidebar).