July 30, 2021 report
Remains of ancient dogs found among early human ancestral remains in Georgia
A team of researchers from Italy, Spain and Georgia has found the remains of ancient hunting dogs at a dig site in what is now modern Georgia. In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, the group describes the fossils they found, their attempts to classify them and the possibility of the dogs interacting with early human ancestors.
Prior research has shown that a type of ancient hunting dog evolved millions of years ago in parts of Asia and then migrated into parts of Europe and Africa. Prior evidence also has shown that the dogs were quite large and likely engaged in social behaviors such as pack hunting. Prior research has also led to the discovery of the remains of ancient human ancestors near the Georgian village of Dmanisi—the oldest ever found outside of Africa. In this new study, the researchers found evidence of the hunting dogs living in the vicinity of the human ancestors at Dmanisi approximately 1.8 million years ago.
The dog remains, which included four skeletons and multiple skulls, have been classified by the team as belonging to Canis (Xenocyon) lycaonoides, commonly referred to as the Eurasian hunting dog. They have estimated that the dog likely weighed approximately 30 kg when alive and was likely quite young. They suggest it had longer limbs than modern hunting dogs and was stouter. They note that the find represents the oldest such fossil found to date in Europe and is the first to have been found at the Dmanisi site.
The researchers note that the remains do not represent domestication of the dogs. Prior research has suggested humans did not begin domesticating any kind of dog until approximately 40,000 years ago. But they note that the close proximity of the dog fossils with the human fossils suggests they did coexist and might have even stolen each other's food—modern hunting dogs have learned to eat quickly as their prey is quite often stolen by other larger animals. The find also suggests that the two species appeared to have met as the dogs were migrating south into the Middle East and Africa and the human ancestors were migrating north into Europe and Asia.
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