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Ancient Canine Skeleton Reveals New Depths of Humanity's Bond With Dogs

'There was a unique relationship of care between humans and dogs.'

A pup’s sweet glance is all your heart really needs, but scientists have now proven that people have emotional ties to dogs, and very good boys bond with us in return. Now, a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science puts a date on the origins of that bond, shedding light on the nature of our early relationship with pups.

The paper, published Saturday in the Journal of Archeological Science, presents a new analysis on dog remains discovered in 1914 near Bonn, Germany. These bones and teeth were found alongside the remains of two humans and the teeth belonging to another dog, making the site the oldest known grave in which humans and dogs were buried together. The fossils are thought to be 14,000 years old, suggesting that our sweet sentiments toward dogs originated in the Paleolithic era.

The teeth of the younger dog from the grave, with traces of canine distemper.

This revelation isn’t just adorable; it also revealed that the relationship between dogs and ancient humans didn’t only form out of necessity. Dogs helped us hunt, sure, but the analysis of the fossils showed that early puppers endeared themselves to their owners as well.

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As scientists re-examined the teeth that belonged to the more complete dog fossil, they discovered it was only about seven months old when it died. But when veterinarian and Leiden University Ph.D. candidate Luc Janssens took a closer look at the teeth, he realized that the dog survived much longer than it would have without human help: The dog appeared to have suffered from an infection with morbillivirus, colloquially known as canine distemper. Even now, this virus has no known cure.

While Janssen notes that the team can’t be 100 percent certain the dog had the virus, the available evidence points to that conclusion. The teeth have characteristic damage showing that the dog became sick when it was only three to four months old, yet it continued to live for another eight weeks — a feat that could have only been managed with the help of a human.

“That would mean keeping it warm and clean and giving it food and water, even though, while it was sick, the dog would not have been of any practical use as a working animal,” Janssen explained in a statement released Saturday. “This, together with the fact that the dogs were buried with people who we may assume were their owners, suggests that there was a unique relationship of care between humans and dogs as long as 14,000 years ago.”

Overview of the bone fragments of the dog found in the grave in Bonn-Oberkassel.

Scientists have been trying to understand when exactly our relationship with dogs began — and when it turned into an emotional bond — for a long time. They generally agree that European dogs were domesticated between 18,000 to 32,000 years ago, in part because ancient humans needed to use them as hunting tools. That process led to selection for dog genes that underlie hyper-social behavior, which likely made bonding easier over the years. In 2017, a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute reported they found cave art in the Arabian Peninsula depicting dogs on leashes, which scientists determined was 8,000 to 9,000 years old. That discovery was a huge step in understanding the origins of our relationship with dogs, but this new finding sets that relationship back even further on humanity’s timeline. Dogs have been good boys for a while, and archeological evidence is increasingly proving that.


Steve Irwin: He Gave Attention to One of Nature's Saltiest Big Boys

The endangered saltwater crocodile received a helping hand from Irwin.

The late icon of conservation Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin would have been 57 years old on Friday, and Google chose the day to mark his extraordinary life with a touching Google Doodle slideshow. Irwin was deeply involved with animals, reptiles especially, from an early age, as his parents ran a reptile park when was a child in Australia. As you do, he eventually began to wrestle crocodiles, nature’s saltiest, crustiest lords of the mud, proving that what he’d do later in life was no stunt for TV.

The Incredible Science Behind This Self-Warming, Self-Cooling Bed

Eight Sleep’s new bed will make tossing and turning a thing of the past.

Filed Under Data

Sleep tracking can unquestionably help you establish better habits which allow for a more restful night’s sleep. By keeping track of the nights that you toss and turn, you can identify potential explanations for your sub-optimal slumber. Maybe it’s the time of week that’s got you anxious. Maybe it was the cheeseburger you had for lunch. Paying attention is just the start, though.

The 'Stoned Ape' Theory Might Explain Our Extraordinary Evolution

A scientist resurfaces a psychedelic retelling of human evolution.

Imagine Homo erectus, a now-extinct species of hominids that stood upright and became the first of our ancestors to move beyond a single continent. Around two million years ago, these hominids, some of whom eventually evolved into Homo sapiens, began to expand their range beyond Africa, moving into Asia and Europe. Along the way, they tracked animals, encountered dung, and discovered new plants.

Did Inbreeding Kill the Neanderthals? Experts Say Skeletons Hold Clues

Things got a little "Game of Thrones."

Today, Homo sapiens are the only humans left on Earth. But thousands of years ago there were more of us — other species that belonged to the same genus, and in turn, our family tree. They are now extinct and scientists endeavor to figure out why.

In a new study published this month in Scientific Reports, a team took on the case of Homo neanderthalensis, and argue that the reason they died out was because things turned a little Game of Thrones.

Brain Scans Reveal Why "Night Owls" Have It Rough in a 9-to-5 Society: Study

The results explain why we need to "create more flexibility in our society."

The 9-to-5 workday originated with American labor unions in the 1800s, and today, the eight-hour workday is the norm. But however normalized the schedule, it is directly opposed to something more powerful: biology.

In a new study, scientists report that people whose internal body clocks tell them to go to bed late, but are then forced to wake up early, have a lower resting brain connectivity in the regions of the brain linked to consciousness.