In Tom Edison’s Shaggy Dog, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Edison discovers that dogs are intellectually superior beings. In fact, they are so intelligent that canines found the easiest possible way to survive: endearing themselves to humans. When Edison confronts his own dog about this revelation, the dog says, “Look, Mr. Edison. Why not shut this up? It has been working to everyone’s satisfaction for hundreds of thousands of years. Let the sleeping dogs lie.”
That’s true The close relationship of humanity with the canines. spans millenniaSerial number: 7/18/17). This long-term interspecies friendship is a subject of intense scientific studythough where, when, and even why it started remains murky (Serial number: 7/6/17). short a talking dog, scientists have had to rely on archaeological and genetic evidence for tracks (Serial number: 2/6/16). But similarities between wolves and early domesticated dogs may make it hard for researchers to tell them apart. In the early days, before wolves were fully domesticated, perhaps the most notable difference was simply the relationship of animals to people.
That’s where storytelling can help, says historian Julien d’Huy of the College de France in Paris. Our penchant for mythologizing canine companions may be as old as our relationship with them, so d’Huy draws on these stories in an attempt to shed more light on the history of dog domestication.
Some historians argue that using mythology to track human migration and information dissemination unreliable because stories change quickly (Serial number: 01/19/16). D’Huy disagrees: Dogs play a starring role in many cultural origin stories, and since these myths are central to identity, that gives them stability over time, he says.
“With mythology, we can have explanations from archaeology, we can have reasons for domestication, we can test hypotheses,” he says.
D’Huy found three central plots for the early dog-related myths: the first links dogs to the afterlife, the second relates to the union of humans and dogs, and the third associates a dog with the star Sirius. . Versions of these stories are found in many cultural regions around the world. He then borrowed statistical tools from biology to create family trees of myths, showing how stories evolved as they followed humans from one region of the world to another.
folk tales about dogs came from central and eastern Asia and spread to Europe, the Americas, and later to Australia and Africa, d’Huy reports in June. anthropozoological. This mythological travel route parallels a proposed confirmed dog domestication route by genetics and fossil evidence (Serial number: 1/3/21).
“It was a surprise,” says d’Huy. He wasn’t sure if dogs and our mythology about them would migrate together.
“It’s certainly debatable that dogs were first domesticated in Asia,” says Pat Shipman, a retired paleoanthropologist and author of Our oldest companions: the story of the first dogs. Using mythology is a smart way to look back into the past, he says, because it can provide insight into how ancient humans valued dogs.
The prevalence of ancient myths identifying dogs as guides to the afterlife hints that our ancestors initially domesticated wolves not to hunt as companions, as is commonly believed, but for spiritual and symbolic reasons, d’Huy argues. This hypothesis fits with certain archaeological finds, he says, such as a 14,000-year-old tomb in Germany containing a couple and two dogs. The woman was found with her hand resting on the head of one of the dogs.
D’Huy is applying these methods to study how ancient myths can inform what we know about our connection to other animals like sheep: their mythological link to the sun could have led to domestication. Symbolic, rather than utilitarian, reasons for domestication could explain much of the data, he says.
“Comparative mythology has something to say in the world of research,” he says. “A very worthwhile thing to say, I think.”