Today’s dogs serve as a number of different tools. We train dogs to see for the blind, we train them to sniff for drugs, we train them to save people’s lives, and we train them to be our faithful companions. There is no doubt that the dog has a wide variety of skills and jobs. We selectively breed the dog to gain the certain attributes we are seeking, and we know which dogs will perform the best at what we want them to do. The question is how long ago, and why did the dog become our aids, tools, and companions? Answering this question means dealing with the four fields of Anthropology: Ethnologically, Archaeologically, Physically, and Linguistically.
The most obvious way to learn about the past of the dog species, is to treat it the same way we treat ancient societies. Archaeologists study where they once were, look at their remains. Where they lived, what they looked like, and how they changed over time. An example of using the Archaeological field of Anthropology would be the excavation of the Roman city, Pompeii, which was destroyed by the volcano Vesuvius in AD 79. When finally excavated, searchers found the remains of a dog lying across a child, apparently trying to protect him. By looking at this individual skeleton, we can estimate that just 1900 years ago, the inhabitants knew of the dog’s desire to protect. They probably counted on dogs similarly to the way we do today. Other archaeological digs have suggested that the relationship between dogs and humans dates to about 14,000 years ago. Most experts do agree the dog was the first domesticated animal, was domesticated around 14 to 15,000 years ago. The earliest bones of dogs that we have recovered come from a site called ein Mallaha in Israel. This site was discovered in 1979 and the bones date back to 12,000 years old but historians believe the dog had been domesticated even a few thousand years before that.
Another field of Anthropology is the Ethnological aspect of the science. From looking back at the ancient civilization’s customs and beliefs, we can see relationships between their stories and how they lived. This also ties into the linguistic field of Anthropology, where the culture is passed on to the children through stories and myths. An example of this would be the following: historians have studied the Roman myths and legends that were popular in ancient Rome, and they agree that the Ancient Romans relied heavily on watchdogs for protection. The Romans apparently derived this tradition from the legend that a dog guarded the gate to hell. Therefore, they used dogs to protect what was dear to them, homes, valuables, and families. Romans also used dogs for military purposes, some as attack dogs, and some as messengers. They equipped their Mastiffs with light armor and sent them into battle against the enemy, carrying spikes and cauldrons of flaming sulphur (Whitehead 242). These dogs were obviously essential to the ancient Roman’s lives.
The last field of Anthropology that has not been discussed is the physical field. By looking at a culmination of the fossils we have, it not only adds to a holistic approach to the problem, but it also gives us a longitudinal study of a very old question. Instead of gathering the information over multiple visits, which would be impossible, we can get the same information we need by looking at the same object, at different points of history. To do this, we look at fossilized remains that we are able to date. By doing this, we can track the changes we notice. For example, it is quite obvious; that the first domesticated dogs were not as diverse as the dogs we have today. There were only a few kinds of dogs. Fossil remains of the early Bronze Age, 6500 years ago; make it possible to identify 5 major groups of early dogs. As the fossils get younger and younger, we notice a growing of the species. Dogs are obviously mixing and creating new breeds. The wide diversity in breeds that we witness today comes from selective breeding as well as natural genetic mutations in the five groups. Physical Anthropology even explores this last point. These natural genetic mutations are causing some dissention in the professional field. A recent study, led by biologist Robert K. Wayne of UCLA, suggests that canines may have been domesticated 100,000 or more years ago, only 30,000 years after the first signs of modern humans. These genetic mutations serve as a harmless “genetic clock” that indicate the passage of time in the evolution of the wolf to the dog. This same method has been used to show that humans diverged from a common ancestor in North Africa and to show when Asians first entered North America and established Native American populations. Although this idea seems quite rational, most historians will not accept this as fact. The fossils seem to be a much more widely accepted view. People will always accept something they can physically see, rather than theorems and estimations.
So, as one can see, by using these four fields simultaneously, in a holistic method, Anthropologists can paint a very convincing portrait of a question that seems impossible to answer unless someone was there to witness it. Often, these answers can solve very important questions that provide explanations to why we live the way we do today. Although it is not imperative that we know when and why the wolf became the dog we know today, it is interesting to study the people who helped give us what we know now as man’s best companion and protection. If Anthropology can solve this Anthropological problem, it is exciting to think what else we can learn about another group of people or time period, without even being present!
· Whitehead, Sarah. Dog, The Complete Guide. London: Team Media, Ltd.,1999
· Friend, Tim “Dog domestication dates to early man.” USA Today, 10/23/97. [http:// www.usatoday.com/life/science/ancient/lsa023.htm] (2 October 2000)
· Dansie, Amy “Man's Oldest Best Friends: Ancient Dogs in Nevada.” Nevada State Museum Newsletter, May/June 1999. [http://dogs.about.com/pets/dogs/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fdmla.clan.lib.nv.us%2Fdocs%2Fdmla%2Fnewsletters%2Fmus-let07.htm%2311] (2 October 2000)
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