Tag Archives: archeology

Archaeologists uncover earliest evidence of domesticated dogs in Arabian Peninsula

Dog bones dated between circa 4200 and 4000 BCE discovered

A team of archaeologists in north-west the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has uncovered the earliest evidence of dog domestication by the region’s ancient inhabitants.

An AlUla rock art panel shows two dogs hunting an ibex, surrounded by cattle. The weathering patterns and superimpositions visible on this panel indicate a late Neolithic age for the engravings, within the date range of the burials at the recently excavated burial sites. (PRNewsfoto/Royal Commission for AlUla for Saudi Arabia)

The discovery came from one of the projects in the large-scale archaeological surveys and excavations of the region commissioned by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).

The researchers found the dog’s bones in a burial site that is one of the earliest monumental tombs identified in the Arabian Peninsula, roughly contemporary with such tombs already dated further north in the Levant.

Evidence shows the earliest use of the tomb was circa 4300 BCE and received burials for at least 600 years during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic era – an indication that the inhabitants may have had a shared memory of people, places and the connection between them.

“What we are finding will revolutionize how we view periods like the Neolithic in the Middle East. To have that kind of memory, that people may have known for hundreds of years where their kin were buried – that’s unheard of in this period in this region,” said Melissa Kennedy, assistant director of the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (AAKSAU) – AlUla project.

“AlUla is at a point where we’re going to begin to realize how important it was to the development of mankind across the Middle East,” said the AAKSAU director, Hugh Thomas.

This is the earliest evidence of a domesticated dog in the Arabian Peninsula by a margin of circa 1,000 years.

The findings are published in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

The project team, with Saudi and international members, focused its efforts on two above-ground burial sites dating to the 5th and 4th millennia BCE and located 130 kilometers apart, one in volcanic uplands and the other in arid badlands. The sites were above ground, which is unique for that period of Arabian history, and were positioned for maximum visibility.

The research team detected the sites by using satellite imagery and then by aerial photography from a helicopter. Ground fieldwork began in late 2018.

It was in the volcanic uplands site that 26 fragments of a single dog’s bones were found, alongside with bones from 11 humans – six adults, an adolescent and four children.

The dog’s bones showed signs of arthritis, which suggests the animal lived with the humans into its middle or old age.

After assembling the bones, the team then had to determine that they were from a dog and not from a similar animal such as a desert wolf.

The team’s zoo archaeologist, Laura Strolin, was able to show it was indeed a dog by analyzing one bone in particular, from the animal’s left front leg. The breadth of this bone was 21.0 mm, which is in the range of other ancient Middle Eastern dogs. In comparison, the wolves of that time and place had a breadth of 24.7 to 26 mm for the same bone.

The dog’s bones were dated to between circa 4200 and 4000 BCE.

Rock art found in the region indicates that the Neolithic inhabitants used dogs when hunting ibex, and other animals.

The fieldwork uncovered other noteworthy artefacts, including a leaf-shaped mother-of-pearl pendant at the volcanic uplands site and a carnelian bead found at the arid badlands site.

The researchers expect more findings in future as a result of the massive survey from the air and on the ground, and multiple targeted excavations in the AlUla region undertaken by the AAKSAU and other teams, which are operating under the auspices of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). The AAKSAU team is led by researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia.

The researchers note that AlUla is a largely unexplored area located in a part of the world that has a fertile archaeological heritage of recognized global value.

“This article from RCU’s work at AlUla establishes benchmarks. There is much more to come as we reveal the depth and breadth of the area’s archaeological heritage,” said Rebecca Foote, Director of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Research for RCU.

Source: Taylor and Francis Group

The origin of feces (aka shit happens)

The archaeological record is littered with feces, a potential goldmine for insights into ancient health and diet, parasite evolution, and the ecology and evolution of the microbiome. The main problem for researchers is determining whose feces is under examination. A recent study published in the journal PeerJ, led by Maxime Borry and Christina Warinner of Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), presents “CoproID: a reliable method of inferring sources of paleofeces.”

After thousands of years, the source of a particular piece of feces can be difficult to determine. Distinguishing human and dog feces is particularly difficult: they are similar in size and shape, occur at the same archaeological sites, and have similar compositions. In addition, dogs were on the menu for many ancient societies, and our canine friends have a tendency to scavenge on human feces, thus making simple genetic tests problematic, as such analyses can return DNA from both species.

Shit happens

H35 (Ash pit number 35) coprolites from Xiaosungang archaeological site, Anhui Province, China © Jada Ko, Courtesy of the Anhui Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

In order to access the insights contained within paleofeces, the researchers developed coproID (coprolite identification). The method combines analysis of ancient host DNA with a machine learning software trained on the microbiomes within modern feces. Applying coproID to both newly sequenced and previously published datasets, the team of researchers from the MPI-SHH, Harvard University, and the University of Oklahoma were able to reliably predict the sources of ancient feces, showing that a combination of host DNA and the distinct colonies of microbes living inside humans and dogs allow their feces to be accurately distinguished.

Classification capability provides insights into digestive health

“One unexpected finding of our study is the realization that the archaeological record is full of dog poop,” says Professor Christina Warinner, senior author of the study. But Warinner also expects coproID to have broader applications, especially in the fields of forensics, ecology, and microbiome sciences.

The ability to accurately identify the source of archaeological feces enables the direct investigation of changes in the structure and function of the human gut microbiome throughout time, which researchers hope will provide insights into food intolerances and a host of other issues in human health. “Identifying human coprolites should be the first step for ancient human microbiome analysis,” says the study’s first author, Maxime Borry.

“With additional data about the gut metagenomes of non-Westernized rural dogs, we’ll be better able to classify even more ancient dog feces as in fact being canine, as opposed to ‘uncertain,’” Borry adds. As the catalog of human and dog microbiome data grows, coproID will continue to improve its classifications and better aid researchers that encounter paleofeces in a range of geographic and historical contexts.

Source:  Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History