Paleolithic Pets

While there isn’t a whole lot of science to this article about the remains of 3 prehistoric dogs found in the Czech Republic, it is interesting nonetheless.  The bones are not dated, except to say they came from the Paleolithic Age which makes them at least 10,000 years old but possibly a couple million years older.  Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist who studied the remains, indicates the dogs died between the ages of 4 and 8:

“These skulls show clear signs of domestication,” Germonpré said, explaining they are significantly shorter than those of fossil or modern wolves, have shorter snouts, and noticeably wider braincases and palates than wolves possess.

She described them as large, with an estimated body weight of just over 77 pounds. The shoulder height was at least 24 inches.

It is believed the dogs were used as draft animals and were fed table scraps, if you will, from the humans’ diet – a staple of which was mammoth meat.  In fact, one of the dogs’ skulls was found with what is likely a mammoth bone in his mouth.

Another interesting theory posited in the article:

The dog skulls show evidence that humans perforated them in order to remove the brain. Given that better meat was available, the researchers think it’s unlikely the brains served as food.


“Among many northern indigenous peoples, it was believed that the head contains the spirit or soul,” Germonpré explained. “Some of these peoples made a hole in the braincase of the killed animal so that the spirit might be released.”

While this is only one possible explanation for the hole in the skull, the idea does suggest the human-canine bond goes back farther than many had previously believed.

9 thoughts on “Paleolithic Pets

  1. I think this may be the article referenced:

    ‘Palaeolithic dog skulls at the Gravettian Předmostí site, the Czech Republic’

    The Gravettian was c. 28,000-23,000 years ago.

    Germonpré made the popular news a couple of years ago with another study of ancient dogs:

    ‘Fossil dogs and wolves from Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes’

    In that one, one of the dogs, that from Belgium, was dated to c. 31,700 y.a., and she suggested that this would date initial domestication to the Aurignacian, c. 47,000-41,000 y.a.

    Myself, I’m … not so much skeptical, as cautious. Thing is, I’m not convinced that the short-snouted husky-like canids identified in the study are domesticated, especially given the genetic diversity – I would expect a true domesticated population to show a decline in diversity. So, perhaps they are the ancestors of domesticated dogs or one of them – but first, a dog-like canid species or subspecies. For that matter, I’m not even convinced these skulls are evidence of tame animals – the holes in the skulls may well be evidence of ritual (though I hardly think that precludes consumption) but if it is, it may just be evidence that these animals were of great significance. I mean, cave bear skulls have been discovered in Upper Paleolithic ritual contexts, and no-one suggests they were domesticated. So … for me, it’s ‘not proven.’

    1. Before you dismiss it on the basis of genetic diversity, dogs are still the most genetically diverse domesticated species.

  2. That was/is so cool! This was obviously a group that VALUED their animals – regardless of if they are the companions we have today or were ‘working’ animals. The fact that they put the holes in the skull to allow the spirit to leave the body tells us that much. While they may not be exactly like what we see in our canines today I am going to hazard a guess that they were quite possibly work animals like we use draft horses and such for now. It’s quite possible that our canines of today did descend from this line…it would make perfect sense. AND it helps answer the question about when the domesticating of dogs began – somewhat. Seriously they have to start out somewhere….beginning as a work animal can be a first step in that direction! I’m going to have to add this to my kids school work for next week! Thanks so much for this info….after the Wake Co video and then this….today is starting out on a good note!

      1. Thanks for that link – more info to use! I have started digging up tons of information about this since reading this post – but that link is by far more thorough (and understandable) than the others I found.

  3. I recently saw a program stating the oldest domesticated dogs originated from East Asia.

    A 10,000 year old dog was found in Israel in the arms of a woman, obviously loved & cared for by her. It would of been a shame if they killed the doggie just to be buried with her. They had no ideas of why who was buried with who.

  4. The East Asian dog study was based upon a comparison of mtDNA diversity in dog populations. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited maternally, and it is only a tiny part of the genome. The theory goes that there will be greater diversity in mtDNA sequences at the place of origin. The fellow who did that study was Peter Savolainen in Sweden. However, a much larger, genome-wide study that compared domestic dogs to extant wolf populations was performed by Robert Wayne’s team at UCLA. That study found that dogs were most closely related to the Middle Eastern wolves. Judging from the locations of the wolves sampled, it appears that the Arabian wolf is the one most closely related to the dog. It also has the same “small dog” gene that gives us the small size in domestic dogs. Some Arabian wolves are only 25 pounds! Only a few dogs show any relationship to East Asian wolves. So it’s unlikely that this was ever a major area of domestication.

    There was an even older dog discovered in the Altai Mountains recently, but like the Goyet Cave “dog,” it cannot be connected to modern dogs.

    The authors of that study thought it was a dead end of domestication, but I’m not convinced.

    I think the bulk of the evidence is showing domestication of dogs started tens of thousands of years ago, with Europe, the Middle East, and, less importantly, East Asia.

    There is a really good book on all of this coming out this month.

    How the Dog Became the Dog by Mark Derr:

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