14 February 2019
Evidence of early use of dogs for hunting in Jordan
Published online 29 January 2019
Significant amounts of hare fossils in an 11,500-year-old human settlement in Jordan could mark the beginning of dog-assisted hunting in the area.
Archaeological digs on a Neolithic site in northeast Jordan have revealed dogs were present in a human settlement 11,500 years ago and may have been used to hunt. The research, conducted by archaeologists from Denmark and the UK, suggests that the sharp surge in small mammal remains, especially hares, discovered on the site of Shubayqa 6, coincided with early exploitation of dogs’ hunting and tracking skills.
A significant proportion of animal bones excavated on site showed signs of partial digestion. Given their large size, only dogs would have been able to swallow them, not humans. This study also reveals that humans and dogs were living in close proximity within the settlement, says zooarcheologist, Lisa Yeomans, of the University of Copenhagen. “Dogs must have been free to roam around the site picking over the scraps, or even deliberately fed remains of human’s foods," she adds.
The suggestion that dogs started assisting humans in hunting activities in the area was prompted by the discovery of notably large amounts of hare bones in the archaeological record, coinciding with the introduction of dogs at Shubayqa 6. Hares were used for meat, their bones used in bead making. Humans may have developed new and more efficient hunting techniques involving dogs to capture the fast prey.
People living in Shubayqa 6 do not seem to have diversified and improved their hunting skills as a result of a depletion of food sources. The archaeologists did not find evidence of a population struggling to cope with diminished resources, describing large populations of birds and gazelles around the area. “Perhaps resources became scarcer in the summer, so the use of dogs may have helped for resource procurement,” Yeomans suggests. “Or perhaps people just became aware that dogs were useful at this stage, rather than needing an external push.”
Zooarchaeologist, Umberto Albarella of the University of Sheffield, UK, who was not involved in the study, believes it’s plausible that humans broadened their subsistence strategies to include smaller mammals through the introduction of new hunting techniques, facilitated by the early domestication of dogs.
“The evidence shows that the domestication of dogs may have been instrumental to the development of a key phase of human history. Considering how dogs are still essential to many ways of life today, this is a likely suggestion,” he says.
Yeomans, L. et al. Close companions: Early evidence for dogs in northeast Jordan and the potential impact of new hunting methods. J. Anthropol. Archaeol. 53, 161–173 (2019).