Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Here's an Interesting Idea: Modern Humans Teamed with Dogs to Outlast Neandertals

National Geographic is reporting on a study done by Pat Shipman for a new book titled The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction.  As Shipman relates: 

Předmostí is one of a series of archaeological sites in Central and Eastern Europe. They're really weird sites because they're full of dead mammals. Before modern humans came into Eurasia, there was little evidence that Neanderthals were killing mammoths on a regular basis. They're huge! Attacking them with handheld weapons was probably too intimidating, unless you came across a baby mammoth.

But once modern humans arrive on the scene, you start finding these sites with dozens and sometimes hundreds of dead mammoths. At some, the bones are so concentrated that if the mammoths were alive they couldn't stand in the territory where their bones are.

These mammoth megasites, as they became known, contain an outrageous amount of mammoths. So what's changed that is going to enable modern humans to kill all these animals? Neanderthals couldn't, and they weren't inept. Distance weapons of the kind that humans had might have been helpful, but you had to track the darn thing as it died.

And that's where wolf dogs come in, because wolf dogs are found with lots of mammoth bones. Some of these sites even have beautiful tent-shaped huts made out of mammoth bone. This suggests people were there for a long time. They were living there and building these settlements where the animals died.
Pat Shipman is married to Alan Walker, who was part of the team that excavated and described the Lake Turkana Homo erectus boy, an almost complete skeleton that changed much of what we thought about Homo erectus at the time.  This would be a good read.  Not sure I buy the argument yet, but it is certainly worth consideration.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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