The Archaeology of Dog Domestication

 Human culture cannot be separated from nature. Harris and Ciopolla, champions of emerging archaeological techniques, explain that human culture is influenced by the nature around it and vice versa. (Harris and Ciopolla 2007) The field of Zooarchaeology studies the relationships between humans and animals throughout time. Humans and dogs in particular, have coexisted and bonded in ways that transcend culture. Dogs as domestic pets can be found at archaeological sites throughout the world and spanning eras. By applying archaeological techniques to the remains of dogs, Zooarchaeologists have worked to determine exactly when and where dogs were first domesticated by humans.

A chart showing the evolution of dogs across regions from a common wolf ancestor

The archaeological record of the domestication of dogs has been unclear for much of the modern era. Originally it was thought that there were two independent domestication events. One occured in Europe and one in Asia. However, new technology, such as the emergence of DNA testing has allowed researchers to debunk this theory. Even though all dogs evolved from the Grey Wolf, the genetic difference between eastern and western dogs is what led many to argue that two different domestication events occurred. By testing the DNA of prehistoric dogs found in Germany and Ireland against that of modern European dogs, archaeologists found that the DNA of the prehistoric dogs was very similar to that of the modern European dogs. This directly contradicted previous findings, stating that they weren’t genetically similar. With this new data, Archaeologists were able to determine that dogs were most likely domesticated through a single domestication event. As stated in Nature Magazine, The researchers estimate that dogs and wolves diverged genetically between 36,900 and 41,500 years ago, and that eastern and western dogs split 17,500–23,900 years ago. Because domestication had to have happened between those events, the team puts it somewhere from 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.” (Lallensack 2017) This new study argues that dogs must have been domesticated before the genetic split to account for them being genetically different from wolves. 

A Diagram showing the difference in facial muscles between wolves and dogs

It is also important to note that since the sample size of prehistoric dogs is so small, it is hard to say for certain when and where dogs were first domesticated. Until more diverse data is found and analyzed, this study, while intriguing, does not provide a conclusive answer to the questions of where and when dogs were first domesticated. Researchers have agreed, however, that the process of domesticating dogs was a passive one that is the result of tamer wolves becoming increasingly dependent on humans to survive. This relates back to Harris and Ciopolla’s argument that human culture is dependent on the nature around it and vice versa. The wild wolves slowly became more dependent on humans to survive which led to domesticated animals becoming an integral part of human culture.




Lallensack, Rachael.

2017  Ancient genomes heat up dog domestication debate. Nature (magazine)  July 18 2017., Accessed November 3, 2019.


Harris, Oliver J.T. and Craig Cipolla.

2017  Multi-species Archaeology: People, Plants, and Animals. In: Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium: Introducing Current Perspectives. Routledge. Pp. 152-170.



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Further Reading:

If you want to know more about earlier theories and studies into dog domestication, this article goes into detail about the previous theory of a dual domestication event using data from a 2016 study:


This article uses actual data from dog domestication studies to fact check the TV Show “Alpha”

The Archaeology of Tattoos

In modern culture, tattoos are extremely common and popular as both a form of self expression and a permanent reminder of significant life and cultural events. Archaeology can help us understand both how and why tattoos have become such an important part of human identity. 

Tattooing is a practice that has been around for more than 5,000 years. The oldest known human tattoos come from the mummified remains of Otzi the Iceman. Otzi’s tattoos, which appear on his lower back, behind his knee, and around his ankle are believed to be medicinal as they appear to be an early form of acupuncture. Science Magazine reports, “Ötzi was covered with 61 tattoos including dotlike points around joints, which some researchers believe may have been used as pain treatment akin to an early form of acupuncture. ” (Rapp Learn 2018) These tattoos help explain where the practice of tattooing comes from, as they were used medicinally to increase blood flow and relieve tension in a similar manner to modern acupuncture.

A diagram showing the location of Otzi the Iceman’s Tattoos 


In contrast to the very practical uses of Otzi the iceman’s tattoos, 2,000 years later the tattooing practices of the Polynesian cultures were symbolic and ritualistic. Tattoos were reflections of both the individual  and the society’s cultural history as a whole. Tattoo artists were almost exclusively young males who were highly trained in both the art of tattooing and the meanings of different motifs and their placements. It was the job of the tattoo artist to decide what design and placement a person would get, as well as when a person could get a tattoo. Since getting a tattoo was such an important part of Polynesian culture that tattoo artists were regarded in high esteem by all members of society including the nobility. One interesting note about Polynesian tattooing designs is that one of the only surviving designs, the armband, is not actually a traditional Polynesian design. Instead it is actually a “souvenir” that was created in the 1970s for the American Peace Corps workers.


An Example of a Traditional Male Polynesian Tattoo

An Example of a Polynesian Armband “Souvenir” Tattoo

For more than 5,000 years humans have been tattooing their bodies for a variety of reasons. Archaeology has helped us to understand that tattooing developed in several ways around the world, both as a medical practice to stimulate blood flow to areas of pain, as well as a symbolic way of connecting an individual to their community and cultural history.



Further Reading 

Interesting article about a modern woman getting the same tattoos as Otzi the Iceman: 

For more on the religious significance of tattoos: 



Rapp Learn, Joshua.

   September 7, 2018   5000-year-old ‘Iceman’ May Have Benefited from a Sophisticated Health Care System. Science Magazine., accessed September 14, 2019.


   May 4, 2003   Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo. PBS,, accessed September 14, 2019.



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