Theories on the cause of the demise of the mammoth are as numerous as mammoth fossils. A new study suggests that domesticated dogs may have helped early humans to hunt them into extinction.
In her article “How do you kill 86 mammoths?” to be published in Quaternary International, Penn State Professor Emerita Pat Shipman points out that studies of the archaeological sites in Eurasia from 45,000 to 15,000 years ago that contain stone tools and the remains of hundreds of dead mammoths lack solid evidence on how they were killed.
She describes recent research by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences which found evidence of early domesticated dogs at these sites, not wolves as was previously thought. Shipman believes domesticated dogs would have helped find the mammoths more quickly than humans alone, aided the humans in attacking the animals, helped carry the carcass home and guarded it from predators and scavengers. With more mammoth meat to eat, the hunters would have grown stronger and reproduced more, allowing them to kill more of the massive creatures.
Other studies of dog and wolf DNA from mammoth fossil sites show different genetic signatures that could have been caused by the dogs having different diets, possibly eating the same foods as the local humans. Shipman believes finding more of this evidence will confirm her theory that dogs helped humans hunt the mammoths out of existence.
… if more of these distinctive doglike canids are found at large, long-term sites with unusually high numbers of dead mammoths and wolves; if the canids are consistently large, strong individuals; and if their diets differ from those of wolves, dogs may indeed be man’s best friend.
Think about that the next time your little pooch begs for the largest rawhide bone in the pet store.