Nov
27
2017

 

We don’t know if they had leash laws in Saudi Arabia 8,000 years ago, but we’re pretty sure they had leashes.

In a new study of rock art found on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, researchers announced that they may have discovered the oldest images of domesticated dogs ever found. And those images appear to include leashes.

In the study, published this month in the Journal of Anthropological Archeology, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the science of Human History in Germany catalogued over 1400 rock art panels containing some 7000 carved images of humans and animals. They say the carvings are probably 8,000 to 9,000 years old. Many of the carvings showed humans hunting animals like lions, ibexes, gazelles and other prey.  The humans are surrounded by what appeared to packs of up to 21 hunting dogs. And many of those dogs appear to be tethered, or leashed, the human’s waists.

Researchers say those leashes indicated that humans were training and controlling dogs while we were still hunter-gatherers, long before we’d settled down into agricultural communities.

Angela R. Perri, a co-author on the study, says the images of leashes are particularly exciting because they help show how humans and dogs actually interacted.  The leashed dogs carved into the Saudi Arabian panels are believed to be the earliest depiction of that interaction.

Up until now, the earliest evidence for restraints like leashes come from a wall painting in Egypt that dates to about 3,500 years ago. Likewise, the earliest images previously found of domesticated dogs in the Middle East were found on painted pottery in southwestern Iran that dates back about 8,000 years.

The researchers say that having dogs tied to their waists leave the human’s hands free to use bows and arrows to bring down their prey. In some images, the hunters have single dogs tethered to them. In others, multiple dogs are attached.

The question of when and where dogs were first domesticated is a point of hot debate in archeological circles. Some estimates say it could have happened 40,000 years ago. Others say as recently as 15,000 years ago. Either way, the images in the new study show the first clear indication of a close working relationship between dogs and humans.

One of the most intriguing features of the rock carvings, researchers say, is the fact that whoever did the carvings gave the dogs individual traits to differentiate them from each other—some have spots, others have patches on their chests. Some dogs are obviously male, others presumably female.

The researchers wrote that the anonymous ancient artists may simply have been trying to convey a “general range of variation in local dogs.”  But it’s also possible that they were carving specific pictures of dogs they not only knew, but who helped them survive, further emphasizing that the human-animal bond goes back further than previously thought.

Think of it as the hunter-gatherer version of posting pictures of your favorite pooch to Instagram.

Only it probably took a lot longer with a chisel.

Photo credit © Journal of Anthropological Archaeology/Maria Guagnin/Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

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