8,000-year-old Rock Art Shows Dogs on Leashes

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November 20, 2017

Rock art from 8,000 years ago shows the oldest yet known images of dogs on leashes, an archaeologist says.

Rock art dogs on leashesMaria Guagnin, of Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, found nearly 350 images of dogs in art work carved into rocks in Jubbah and Shuwaymis, two sites in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia. The dogs feature in hunting scenes–helping humans hunt gazelles, ibexes, and lions– and, Guagnin says, some are clearly shown on leashes, tied to the waists of their owners.

The dogs depicted have short snouts, curled tails, and pricked up ears, much like the modern Canaan breed of dog.

Many historians and archaeologists think that humans domesticated dogs as late as 15,000 years ago.  

An excavation in what is now Iran 10 years ago found depictions of dogs on pottery that dated to 8,000 years ago. Those dogs were unleashed. An Egyptian wall painting done 5,500 years ago depicted dogs on leaches. 

Guagnin has worked in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage for the past three years cataloging more than 1,400 rock art panels at the two sites. The art contains nearly 7,000 images of animals and humans.

The Saudi sites were much more hospitable to human habitation 10,000 years ago, when humans settled there around rivers supporting areas of dense vegetation. A transition from hunting and gathering to farming occurred in the region about 8,000 years ago.

Guagnin based her estimate on a number of factors, including weathering of the rock. 

The findings were published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

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