Dogs bred from wolves helped modern humans vanquish local Neanderthals 40,000 years ago from Europe, says Professor Pat Shipman, an anthropologist from Penn State, author of a new book. The alliance with wolves placed us above Neanderthals in the food chain, she hypothesizes.
At that time, Neanderthals, modern humans and wolves were top of the food chain and competed for mammoths and other massive herbivore kills “But then we formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal,” Prof. Shipman explained in her book titled “The Invaders” (citation below).
The term “modern humans”, in this context, refers to humans who were anatomically and perhaps also behaviorally indistinguishable from humans today.
Modern humans and dogs bred from wolves formed the perfect predatory alliance, against which Neanderthals were unable to compete. (Image: Harvard University Press)
Anthropologists say that our modern human ancestors evolved in Africa and started moving out of the continent approximately 70,000 years ago. They reached Europe about 45,000 years ago.
When modern humans got to Europe, the continent was dominated by Neanderthals, our evolutionary cousins, who had been there for over 200,000 years.
With their large brains, sophisticated hunting skills and tools, and sturdy physique, Neanderthals are our closest-known relatives.
For a while both types of humans coexisted, but after a few thousand years the Neanderthals disappeared.
If Prof. Shipman is right about modern humans and the help from dogs bred from wolves, she will have solved one of evolution’s most elusive mysteries. For decades experts have been unable to explain compellingly why the Neanderthals vanished.
Some have said Neanderthals were ill-equipped to adapt to climatic changes near the end of the ice age. But it still begs the question “Why? And why did modern humans manage to adapt?”
We had an accomplice
The great mystery is “What finished off the Neanderthals?” Prof. Shipman believes that modern human’s more sophisticated skills and weapons were partly responsible. However, she adds, we also had a collaborator – the wolf.
Author Pat Shipman, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University. (Image: Penn State)
Prof. Shipman explained:
“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.”
In other words, dogs bred from wolves worked together with modern humans chasing down and tiring prey, which we then finished off with our weapons.
As soon as modern humans and dogs joined forces, they became the kings of the food chain in prehistoric Europe, pushing the Neanderthals into third place. They then disappeared, followed by bison, hyenas, mammoths and lions a few thousand years later.
This alliance between two predator species – modern humans and wolves – gave them a distinct and ultimately decisive edge over Neanderthals at a time when climate change made both groups vulnerable, Prof. Shipman hypothesizes.
Citation: “The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction,” Pat Shipman. Harvard University Press.ISBN 9780674736764. Publication: March 2015.