8,000-Year-Old Engravings in Arabian Desert Are Oldest Known Depictions of Dogs on Leashes
Archaeologists have discovered a set of engravings in Saudi Arabia dating back at least 8,000 years, which depict a hunter accompanied by 13 dogs, 2 of which appear to be on leashes attached to the man’s waist. The engravings are the earliest known depictions of dogs on leads and suggests that humans were training dogs to assist them with hunting thousands of years earlier than previously thought.
ScienceMag reports that the engravings were made on a sandstone cliff in Shuwaymis, a region in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, where more than 1400 rock art panels have already been found. The petroglyphs were known by local Bedouin for centuries, but were only drawn to the attention of authorities in 2001. Since then, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany and the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage have been working to catalog the rock art panels
Dogs on Leashes
Among the massive collection of engravings, researchers were particularly interested in the ones that showed hunting parties involving both man and canine. A number of scenes that have been recently catalogued show dogs being used as hunting partners, some running loose beside a hunter and others tethered to the waist of their master.
“It’s truly astounding stuff,” Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. told ScienceMag “It’s the only real demonstration we have of humans using early dogs to hunt.”
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One of the rock art scenes at Shuwaymis showing dogs on leashes. Credit: Maria Guagnin
The dogs depicted in the rock art are medium-sized with pricked up ears, short snouts and curled tails, common features of domestic canines. In particular, the characteristics are similar to that of the Canaan breed of dog, which has been in existence in the Middle East for thousands of years. Today, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 Canaan dogs across the world.
The ancient hunting dogs of Saudi Arabia (bottom) may have resembled the Canaan breed of dog (top). (Top to bottom): Alexandra Baranova/Wikimedia Commons; M.Guagnin et al., Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 2017
Man’s Best Friend
Archaeologists have long known that dogs have served as man’s best friend for thousands of years.
A study in 2015, which examined a variety of ancient canine DNA, enabled researchers to create a map of the journey of the domestic dog around the world. Results showed that domesticated dogs most likely descended from grey wolves in South East Asia about 33,000 years ago. Then, around 15,000 years ago, a subset of dogs started migrating to the Middle East, Africa and Europe, reaching Europe around 10,000 years ago.
But dogs were much more than companions in ancient times. The relationship between man and canine would have been critical to helping people survive in harsh environments. In particular, the rock art at Shuwaymis suggests that dogs played a crucial role in helping people to hunt and acquire food. The fact that more than 150 dogs have been depicted in scenes at Shuwaymis indicates just how central the dogs were to hunter-gatherer life in the Arabian Desert around 8,000 years ago.
Top image: Image showing part of the engraving found in the Arabian Desert with dogs on leashes (YouTube screenshot / Science Magazine)