Did dogs contribute decisively to our success vs. Neanderthals?

15 May
UP dog with mammoth bone from Premosti
That’s the theory proposed, with some archaeological support, by Pat Shipman at American Scientist (found via Pileta). Not only dog skulls have been found in what appear to be farewell rituals (with a bone between the teeth for example) but these findings always correspond to cultural contexts associated with our kin, such as Aurignacian and never with Neanderthals. 
Being allied with dogs certainly offered some key advantages when hunting, argues Shipman, very specially when finding the prey, a skill for which we are not too well prepared, lacking a fine sense of smell, something demonstrated in modern hunt contexts. 

Domesticating dogs clearly improves humans’ hunting success and
efficiency—whether the game (or the dog) is large or small. The same
must have been true in the Paleolithic. If Neandertals did not have
domestic dogs and anatomically modern humans did, these hunting
companions could have made all the difference in the modern
human–Neandertal competition.

A miscellaneous matter that Shipman considers at the end of the essay is whether the well known ability of communicating silently by looking at each others’ eyes may have helped to this human-dog cooperation. Apparently dogs are also able to follow the direction of the eyes of a human and infer commands or directions from that. This may have been a product of selective breeding but in any case it is something that it’s there and is part of human-dog communication.
See also category: dog in this blog and its predecessor.

Update (May 19): Millán mentions in the comments section that there are some studies from a century ago that claim that Neanderthals might have domesticated dogs first:

It is not clear however if these claims can withstand the passing of time, they are after all from the time of Pitdown Man, when Archaeology was still a bit confused and confusing – but also when the pillars of modern Prehistoric understanding were first laid.


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