Dog Domestication May Have Begun because Paleo Humans Couldn’t Stomach the Original Paleo Diet

it’s easy to cogg why early humans domesticated dogs as their new best friends. tame ca9s can guard against predators and interlopers, carry supplies, pull sleds and provide warmth during cold nites. but those benefits 1-ly come folloing domestication. despite + than a century of study, scis ‘ve struggled to cogg wha’ triggered the domestication process inna 1st place. a new theory described tody in sci reprts posits that hunter-gatherers whose omnivorous digestive system prevented too much protein consumption likely shared sur+ meat with wolves. those scraps may ‘ve initiated a step toward domestication.

“this tis 1st time that we ‘ve an ecological explanation for dog domestication,” says lead author maria lahtinen, a senior researcher atta finnish food authority and a visiting scholar atta finnish museum of natural history. “i personally don’t think that thris a simple, easy answer behind dog domestication, b'we nd'2 see the full picture and complexity of the process.”

lahtinen did not originally set out to solve a long-standing dog mystery. instead she was studying the diet of l8 pleistocene hunter-gatherers in arctic and sub-arctic eurasia. at that time, round 20,000 to 15,000 yrs ago, the realm was engulfed inna coldest period of the last ice age. in frigid environments then, as tody, humans tended to derive the majority o'their food from animals. nutritional deficiencies came from the absence of fat and carbohydrates, not necessarily protein. indeed, if humans eat too much meat, diarrhea usually ensues. and within weeks, they can develop protein poisoning and even die. “cause we humans aint fully adapted to a carnivorous diet, we simply cannot digest protein very well,” lahtinen says. “it can be very fatal in a very short period of time.”

during the coldest yrs of the last ice age—and espeshly in harsh arctic and sub-arctic winters—reindeer, wild horses nother human prey animals ‘d ‘ve been eking out an existence, nearly devoid of fat and composed mostly of lean muscle. using previously published early fossil records, lahtinen and her colleagues calcul8d that the game captured by pplz inna arctic and sub-arctic during this time ‘d ‘ve provided much + protein than they ‘d ‘ve safely consumed.

in + ecologically favorable conditions, wolves and humans ‘d ‘ve been competing for the same prey animals. but under the harsh circumstances of the arctic and sub-arctic ice age winter, sharing excess meat with ca9s ‘d ‘ve cost pplz nothing. the descendants of wolves that took advantage of such handouts ‘d ‘ve become + docile toward their bipedal benefactors over time, and they likely went onna become the 1st domesticated dogs. as the authors point out, the theory makes sense not just ecologically b'tll so geographically: the earliest paleolithic dog discoveries primarily come from zones that were very cold atta time.

the new study presents a “fascinating idea bout lean protein bein’ a food that humans ‘d ‘ve discarded but wolves may ‘ve relied on during winter mnths inna arctic,” says brian hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at duke university, who was not involved inna work. “i think it offers another vital clue for how the human-dog ptnership mite ‘ve been initially fueled.”

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authors: rachel nuwer