Humans were able to eradicate their Neanderthal rivals in Europe thanks to early dogs bred from wolves, according to a prominent American anthropologist.
Dogs were used by humans to gain a competitive edge in hunting that led to the extinction of Neanderthals on the continent 40,000 years ago, Professor Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University claims.
“We formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal,” Prof Shipman told The Observer.
Her theory challenges the conventional academic wisdom that wolves were only domesticated a mere 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of agriculture.
The professor believes that wolves were bred by humans as early as 70,000 years ago, when humans first came to Europe from Africa – leading to the domestic dogs we know today.
The theory would solve the mystery of why the dominant Neanderthals in Europe died out a few thousand years after the arrival of humans on the continent, despite having lived in the region for more than 200,000 years.
Prof Shipman argues that the alliance with the wolf, along with superior weapons and hunting skills, enabled humans to outwit their Neanderthal rivals and become the dominant species.
“Early wolf-dogs would have tracked and harassed animals like elk and bison and would have hounded them until they tired. Then humans would have killed them with spears or bows and arrows,” Prof Shipman said.
“This meant the dogs did not need to approach these large cornered animals to finish them off – often the most dangerous part of a hunt – while humans didn’t have to expend energy in tracking and wearing down prey.
“Dogs would have done that. Then we shared the meat. It was a win-win situation,” she added.
A study published last year found that modern humans and Neanderthals lived alongside each other in Europe for 4,000 years, exchanging culture and genes.
In Asia humans and Neanderthals could have lived side by side for up to 20,000 years, as anatomically modern humans colonised the continent long before reaching Europe.
The last Neanderthals in Europe are thought to have died out in modern-day Belgium, where they lived in caves as their numbers dwindled.
Most scientists believe that Neanderthals quickly died out after the arrival of homo sapiens to Europe, owing to competition for resources and possibly violent conflict.
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