In her new book, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, Pat Shipman, retired adjunct professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, sets out a groundbreaking new argument.

Talking from her home in North Carolina, she explains how reading about invasive species while holidaying on a Caribbean island inspired her, why more accurate carbon-dating methods have revised the timeline for Neanderthal extinction, and how the discovery of "wolf dog" remains at woolly mammoth sites in Central and Eastern Europe may hold the key to understanding why humans went on to build the Sistine chapel and send a robot to Mars while Neanderthals became a footnote in popular culture.

"At that time, modern humans, Neanderthals and wolves were all top predators and competed to kill mammoths and other huge herbivores," Shipman told Robin McKie, of The Guardian. "But then we formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal."

According to Shipman, "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." In addition to helping with the hunt, wolf-dogs would have kept rival carnivores and scavengers from stealing the kill — just as wolves protect their kills today.

Wolf-dogs and humans benefitted from this remarkable partnership. "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."

These ancient wolf-dogs were not the same as modern wolves or modern dogs, though they had similar characteristics. Shipman told Simon Worrall of National Geographic that wolf-dogs were built for hunting: They were large, equipped with big teeth and a great sense of smell, and could run long and fast.

Shipman found no evidence that Neanderthals joined forces with wolves. As she told Worrall, "They continued to do things in the same old Neanderthal way as life got hard and times cold. They continued to hunt the same animals with the same tools in the same way. And that lack of adaptability may have been a telling failure as [modern humans] moved in. If you then add in wolf-dogs, Neanderthals were at a terrific disadvantage."

As I see it, ancient wolves were intelligent enough to grasp the advantage of working with our primitive ancestors. Ancient wolves were generous enough to share their hard-earned kill. Ancient wolves were brave enough to make what Mark Derr calls "a leap of friendship" with a competitive species. We should not forget the debt we owe these fine and essential creatures.

Wolf dogs weren't a hybrid between a wolf and a modern dog; they were a distinctive group. But like the wolves shown above, they were large predators with big teeth.

Responses to "Humans Owe Their Survival To Wolves"

  1. It is now known that genetically, wolves and dogs are the same species, just different breeds, so this "wolf-dog" would be an extinct breed.

  2. Mary says:

    That, and we know Neanderthals interbred with more modern humans, to the point that many of us carry a few Neanderthal genes today.

  3. Dean Shamblen says:

    It's an interesting theory. And probably true.

  4. SLKite says:

    This is not only fascinating, but could blow the lid off a lot of existing scientific theory about the beginnings and survival of modern man...of course the tragedy here is the current world-wide obsession with killing wolves, after millenia as our "partners;" wretched, ungrateful humans have now "evolved" (sarcasm here) to the point where they THINK they no longer need these amazing "partners" from ancient times, to keep our ecosystems balanced and healthy.....mankind has learned nothing, because it continues to manifest violent, blood-thirsty, egocentric, and downright ignorant behaviors...wolves are continuing to evolve while mankind continues to regress...

  5. Unknown says:

    It is also known that humans can jog 20+ miles, tracking the animal after an injury or poisoned spear head subdues their prey. And most animals expend energy in quick bursts and can be found gasping for air. So not all hunters used wolves/dogs.

  6. Unknown says:

    Actually you would think there was a co habitation of human and wolves that is y we have dogs today. The domestication of wolves through time as they lived together for mutual security.we need to respect this bond as both are of family oriented relationships with one another
    Humans progressed to a higher level of intelligence and developed the dog evolution into its existence while the wolves have stayed true to there origin of Gods creation. Now man is cruelly turning his heritage to the wolves through selfish ignorance of this important ty with this magnificent creature. God Bless them so they can be appreciated by our future generations. Amen

  7. I saw an article a couple years ago, where over some 30 generations Russian scientists had selectively bred Silver Fox for the character trait of inquisitiveness. They selected by putting a hand into a cage with a litter of young foxes. The aggressive and the fearful were excluded.
    What they found was these self selected inquisitive foxes quickly diversified across other physical traits like size, color and body shape.
    Conclusion was that a self selection process would occur between a group of humans brave enough to tolerate a nearby Wolfpack and the Wolfpack that was inquisitive enough to hang around the humans without threatening them.

  8. I think that the social structure of wolves also helped develop the human - canine bond. Don't wolf packs function similarly to humans? They are a close knit group that live as packs and protect each other and hunt cooperatively. Is there any truth in this?

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