Why The Dog Remains A Mystery?
Man’s best friend since..?
It strikes me how little we know or indeed are able to establish about our tail wagging, loyal four-legged friend. We appear to know the origins of our universe and that of many other domesticated animals yet the handful of canine species that still roam free on our planet provide debatable evidence when it comes to the ancestry of the multitude of domesticated forms with which we live side-by-side today.
The wolf for want of other tangible explanation has been designated as the domesticated dog’s only direct ancestry although there is alternative opinion that other genetic lineage is likely. Certainly, it is a little unusual that over the same evolutionary period, the wolf remains a wild animal with very little of the obedient attributes portrayed by its domesticated cousin or the instincts and propensity to interpret human instruction and emotion. It is thought in other quarters that the modern dog evolved from the prehistoric Canis species which speculatively split from the wolf family as much as 135,000 years ago..? If this was the case, the further question is raised to whether this was due to a natural evolution or by way of human intervention?
In terms of evidence of their earliest apparent domestication, a joint dog/human burial site was excavated in Germany with an estimated date of some 14,000 years ago. These early dates are somewhat interesting; in relation to the presumption that they would have almost certainly played some role in hunting strategy at a time when it is suggested that human evolution was at a stage of ambush and spear techniques.
The great civilisations of Egypt held the dog in high esteem, being represented as deities with the key astronomical figure of Sirius being called the ‘Dog Star’. Venus was also widely associated to the dog. The Vienna Codex suggests a lineage resulting from a marriage between goddess and dog while in Siberia; there are even those who claim to be descendents of the dog. Such reverence can also be found amongst Hindus in Northern India, Nepal, China and throughout the Mongol regions. Cross the Atlantic Ocean and Native Americans, both North and South, have ancient accounts of this domesticated canine ranging from working animals to the image of god. And there lies a further curious if slightly mischievous coincidence on my part; the mirror of dog being god (in the English language anyway).
While it is also acknowledged that in contrast, some cultures and belief systems perceive the dog with less respect this does not take away from the fact that the relationship between it and humankind seems to remain beyond the horizon of the commonly portrayed interpretation of human history. Although apparently firm historical timelines and facts dictate so much of our general understanding, confidently describing prehistoric times and even our own coming to be, the root of dog and its seemingly eternal bond with man remains surprisingly vague if not slightly left of centre.
For me, it is not just the evolutionary roots of the domesticated dog that fascinates, although it is intriguing, but the remarkably little documented fact relating to this integral part of our history. I find this missing strand of the human story rather compelling like a mist-filled cave which remains relatively unexplored under the premise that it simply leads to the open sea. Dramatic I might be, but the story of the dog/man relationship like so many other realities that we take for granted does not seem to have a clear slot in a history that has otherwise been clearly defined for us on so many other levels. It feels as though a whole unknown chasm of our past is inextricably linked to the origins of our relationship with an animal that seems to have eternally provided un-erring loyalty, protection and even guidance to mankind. If only one could tap into the memory banks of the domestic dog, how much might we learn about ourselves…