Something just for fun today! A friend emailed me an article titled: Do we owe our human existence to the dog? (if that link is dead, try here). Here's my emailed reply…

While this information does not surprise me at all — we can see similar things happening in modern gatherer-hunter tribes today, for example — I find it hilarious that the author simply assumes the dog was domesticated by "Man the Hunter," such that "he" [sic] "triumphed" over the Neandertals: "New evidence suggests that it was the domestication of the dog that supported modern man's evolutionary triumph over the Neandertal alternative."

What evidence we have suggests it was in fact, women, not men, who predominantly domesticated animals. A pup/kitten/other infant animal would be brought back to camp because the dam was killed for food and the hunters (female or male) didn't have the heart to slaughter the babies. A nursing mother (sometimes a human woman, sometimes some closely related female animal) would be found for the orphaned animal, and it would be raised amongst humans.

Sometimes the women raising the animals would later eat the grown orphan, but sometimes they'd find a different use for it — and domestication would slowly begin. Re pack beasts, men usually simply carried their handful of tools: a club or spear — or at least that's what we often find buried with prehistoric males. The women had to do most of the arrangements to move large amounts of goods when the tribe or clan traveled — which they, not the men, owned and were later buried with. Discovering that someone/thing else can help carry would be a natural step in that progression of domestication.

Considering there are both Neandertal and Cro Magnon campsites which have been discovered almost right next to each other, and the times of their flourishing overlapped for a millennia or three, and there's some fascinating evidence that they occasionally interbred… I feel that means we can hardly claim we "triumphed" over them, as if it were some battle! I would say rather (as Jared Diamond points out in his fascinating book Guns, Germs, & Steel) that CroMagnon, being exposed to more germs due to domesticating animals the bigger, stronger, and more enduring Neandertal did not need, became more genetically robust.

Add to that, that we apparently bred like rabbits in comparison — due to being smaller and dying more — well, it's no wonder we eventually outbred them. Look at, for example, elephants and rabbits: the big, powerful, intellectually brilliant elephant has one offspring every 5 years or so. In that time the smaller, dumber — but also more cautious and fragile — rabbit has several generations' worth! It's no coincidence that we have more rabbits than elephants in the world.

Further, the studies done on some modern gatherer-hunter tribes show that men generally (and that's a big generalization) prefer to hunt alone when possible, whereas women will hunt in big, friendly groups with dogs when hunting large game, or will hunt with the dogs, and kids along as beaters as well, for smaller game. According to the researchers, it was a sort of macho thing: the men came home less often with meat, but got all the glory for themselves when they did strike it rich. The women, however, didn't care who got the glory — they just wanted the meat.

Hope this was interesting! :)

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