Woolly Mammoths' Undoing: Dogs?

They may have helped humans round up the huge creatures
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2014 8:54 AM CDT
Woolly Mammoths' Undoing: Dogs?
In this 2010 photo, the most complete woolly mammoth specimen ever found is seen on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.   (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Scientists are floating an intriguing new theory about the demise of woolly mammoths: Dogs may have driven them to their graves. Specifically, dogs that learned to hunt with humans, reports Science. The idea stems from research of sites around the world known as mammoth cemeteries because of the huge number of bones unearthed. But just how did they come to be? Considering that the graveyards started showing up 44,000 years ago, around the time that humans arrived on the scene, Penn State anthropologist Pat Shipman thinks the best guess is that our predecessors are to blame. These early hunters probably killed the mammoths year after year at the same spots on migratory routes—and Shipman thinks they got help from the earliest of domesticated dogs, reports the Siberian Times.

For one thing, dog fossils have turned up at the sites, too, including one that seems to have had a large bone placed in its mouth upon burial, as if to honor its hunting prowess. What's more, many dog skulls show healed fractures, suggesting they got some human TLC. If dogs and humans learned to team up to kill the mammoths and share in the spoils, it would be among the first, if not the first, collaborative efforts between the two species. “This is the first time that someone’s gone out on a limb and suggested something different than what we thought before,” says one expert on dog domestication not involved with the work. “But it’s still very speculative at this stage.” (Click to read about how modern dogs help us keep E. coli at bay.)

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