Friday, April 13, 2012

Did Working With Dogs Give Us The Edge Over Neandertals?

This article in American Scientist presents an interesting theory that working with wolves/early dogs gave modern humans the edge over Neandertals during the 10,000 year overlap of the two living together in Europe and the middle east. Using modern-day evidence to show that hunting efficiency improves with the aid of dogs plus evidence that early dogs were associated with modern human campsites but not Neandertal campsites, the author surmises that it was these canines that meant the human population “grew so rapidly that it overwhelmed Neandertals with its sheer numbers”.

But why did the wolves/early dogs work with modern man rather than Neandertals? The author’s theory is that it might have been due to the whites of our eyes (the sclerae) which are uniquely ubiquitous amongst people and make it much easier to follow eachother’s gaze. This could have given modern humans an advantage in silent communication whilst hunting and this could have included early dogs as well given that dogs have been shown to have a particular talent for reading our gaze direction. However, this theory depends on the lack of white sclerae in Neandertals for which there is no evidence one way or the other at present.

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