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[xmca] co-evolution of humans and canids
This may have some connection to Larry Purss' posting on human/dog relationship. In any case, an interesting angle on the influence of nurture (culture and context) upon nature, along the lines of Engel's speculations on tool use.
Dogs and wolves are part of the rich palette of predators and scavengers that co-evolved with herding ungulates about 10 Ma BP (million years before
present). During the Ice Age, the gray wolf, Canis lupus, became the top predator of Eurasia. Able to keep pace with herds of migratory ungulates wolves became
the first mammalian “pastoralists”. Apes evolved as a small cluster of inconspicuous treedwelling and fruit-eating primates. Our own species
separated from chimpanzee-like ancestors in Africa around 6 Ma BP and– apparently in the wider context of the global climate changes of the Ice Age–walked as
true humans (Homo erectus) into the open savanna.
Thus an agile tree climber transformed into a swift, cursorial running ape, with the potential for adopting the migratory life style that had become essential for
the inhabitants of the savanna and steppe. In the absence of fruit trees, early humans turned into omnivorous gatherers and scavengers. They moved into the
steppe of Eurasia and became skilled hunters. Sometime during the last Ice Age, our ancestors teamed up with pastoralist wolves. First, presumably,
some humans adopted the wolves’ life style as herd followers and herders of reindeer and other hoofed animals. Wolves and humans had found their match.
We propose that first contacts between wolves and humans were truly mutual, and that the subsequent changes in both wolves and humans are understood
best as co-evolution.
From: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org] on behalf of Larry Purss [email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2010 11:42 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] NOVA documentary on Public Broadcasting [PBS]
I want to point out a fascinating documentary I just watched called "Dogs
Decoded" that is relevant to topics on CHAT.
The evolution of the human/dog relationship was explored and some of the
discoveries are astounding.
There is one particular dog that recognizes over 350 distinct words. When
this particular dog is shown a PICTURE [a representation] in 2 dimensions of
an object it has never seen before it can go into another room and locate
that object. This was an activity that the dog had never engaged in before.
The show also documents an ongoing experiment in Russia [since 1950] that
has been trying to domesticate silver foxes. In each generation, the tamest
1% of the foxes [least agressive and most "attuned" to humans] were selected
for breeding. Within 8 generations, the wild dogs were sharing the
attributes of domestic dogs such as "orienting to humans eye gaze and
responding to pointing gestures. This "attuning" behavior is unique to
domesticated dogs and is not seen in any other canines or primates.
This level of interspecies attunement and joint coordination of shared
activity has profound significance for thinking about "human "attunement".
The documentary also showed infant wolves being raised with humans from
birth but they could not be domesticated. The implications are that because
dogs have shared and coordinated activities [communication] with humans,[for
thousands of years] humans ability to "communicate" has transformed the
developmental trajectory of dogs who now are uniquely able to
"understand" human communication in a way that is not evident in any other
I believe all NOVA documentaries can be accessed as podcasts after they have
aired on TV.
I would highly recommend watching this fascinating documentary.
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