|A recreation of a Jōmon hunt with dogs. Niigata Prefectural Museum of History|
Before dogs were our friends, they were our hunting companions, tracking and taking down everything from deer to wild boar. At least that’s the speculation; scientists have little proof that ancient canines actually played this role. Now, a study of more than 100 dog burials in prehistoric Japan claims to provide the strongest evidence yet that early dogs did indeed help people hunt—and may have been critical to human survival in some parts of the world.
“Until now, people have just said it rather than demonstrated it,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t part of the work. The study, she notes, dug into Japanese archaeological literature rarely seen by foreign scientists. “These findings have been hiding in plain sight.”
The project began when graduate student Angela Perri, then at Durham University in the United Kingdom, went on a hunt of her own. She wanted to get a sense of how dogs may have aided early humans in taking down game, so she did her best to approximate the activity: In 2011, she joined a group of Japanese businessmen on a wild boar hunt in a dense forest near Hiroshima. “It was terrifying,” says Perri, now a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “The boar sound like a train. They’re very aggressive, and they have big tusks. At any moment, one could come charging at you.” [...] Science | AAAS / Link 2