Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New World Dogs and Homo erectus

homo erectus and dog
Homo erectus and the first dog. Copyright © 2011 by Austin Whittall [*]

There is evidence at Zhoukoudian, China, that our ancestor Homo erectus shared its “time and space, food and shelter with wolves”[1] half a million years ago.

A similar association was found in Boxgrove, Kent, UK, (400,000 years ago) and in Lazeret, France (150,000 years ago).

All of these three sites predate modern men, and indicate that "archaic" forms of humans were capable of domesticating wolves. Note that wolves are not dogs, they are (Canis lupus variabilis), but this gives us an idea that “old” erectus and wolves lived side by side.

On the other hand, perhaps the bones found together are just a casual accumulation of remains and not proof that they lived together.

However, an article by Stanley Olsen [2] reports that “the genus Canis […] is reported from the Villafranchian (it spans a period from 3.6 to 1.2 Million years ago) or lower Pleistocene levels in North China at the archeological site of Chouchia-yu-fang.”, these may be a “small wolf or an early domestic dog (that is, a tame wolf)”.[2] This is long before modern men appeared on Earth.

Erectus and dogs

Regarding domestication of dogs, something which has been attributed to modern humans (H. sapiens), it is possible that wolves domesticated themselves, attracted by the food and shelter that small roving groups of hominids could have offered them.

Humans would also have benefited from this association as the tame wolves would have provided defense, an alarm system against predators or intruders and, food (in the form of pups).

Susan Crockford, a University of Victoria noted that dogs may have “undergone "self-domestication" from wolves more than once over history, which could explain why the animals appear and then seemingly disappear from the archaeological record”. [3]

So, it is probable that erectus domesticated wolves into dogs in Asia. But, what if they brought them with them into America, or, domesticated local American breeds into their own variety of dogs?

In previous posts I have mentioned the mysterious Falkland Islands warrah, a mammal that lived on those isolated islands, hundreds of kilometers from the continent, and nobody know how they got there.

At one time it was believed that they reached the islands on some native canoe, but, as we will see below that option is not possible. Alternatively they could have walked across the continental shelf when the sea levels were lower during the Ice Ages.

A recent study of their mtDNA [4], has given us a timeline for this strange wolf: the time of the most recent common ancestor (tMRCA) for the Falkland Islands wolf is 330,000 years, while its 95% HPD (Highest Posterior Density) is between 70,000 and 640,000 years respectively. [4]

The study notes that though “the maned wolf is the closest extant relative of the Falklands wolf, a morphologically similar species, Dusicyon avus, survived in South America until the mid-Holocene [7]. This species may have an even closer relationship with the Falklands wolf” [4]

However, as the researchers assume that modern humans appeared in America not earlier than 15 to 20,000 years ago, they conclude that “ a human-mediated origin of the Falklands wolf is unlikely” [4] and give it a natural origin.

So, considering their peculiar features, I wonder if it could have been "mediated" by H. erectus before the arrival of modern man in America?

The timeline fits a plausible time range for erectus to have selectively bred the warrah from maned wolf stock. The divergence age corroborates this. Perhaps they worked with the now extinct Dusicyon Avus or even the mysterious cryptid, the Andean Wolf.


[1] Mark Derr, (2004). Dog's best friend: annals of the dog-human relationship. Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 19.
[2] Olsen, Stanley. J. & Olsen, John.W., (1977). The Chinese wolf ancestor of new world dogs. Science, 197: 533-535. Aug. 5, 1977.
[3] Jennifer Viegas, (2008).World's first dog lived 31,700 years ago, ate big . Online.
[4] Slater G.J., Thalmann O., Leonard J.A., Schweizer R.M., Koepfli K.-P., Pollinger J.P., Rawlence N.J., (...), Wayne R.K., (2009). Evolutionary history of the Falklands wolf Current Biology, 19 (20).
[*] Cartoon by Austin Whittall, derived from two Online Cartoons (See them here and here).

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2011 International Year of Forests
2011 International Year of Forests Copyright 2009-2011 by Austin Whittall © 

1 comment:

  1. There is a much better theory to explain all this, and it's been freely available for years:

    It's been clear for some time that dog split from wolf an order of magnitude longer than modern man has been around, and a long time before coyote split from wolf.


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