The origin of the dog and its distribution in the light of myth

“A man marries a dog-girl”; “The myth of the mysterious housewife”; “It is because of dogs that people become mortal”… Will studying some mythical stories allow us to better understand how humans were able to turn wolves into dogs? Will this shed light on the questions that paleogeneticists and archaeozoologists struggle with as to when and where? Canis lupus familiaris is a flowering plant species are you domesticated? In the quarterly issue The research today on the newsstands, Laurent AF Frantz, paleogeneticist at the Louis-Maximilian University of Munich (Germany) evokes a real “game track about this still debated question. And if the dog is very interested in scientists, it’s because unlike all domestic animals, it was the first species to approach humans thousands of years ago. However, the dates of this event vary depending on the origins. Although paleogenetics reveals that “The genetic code of a dog and an actual wolf differs by 0.15%”, the same method is more complicated to apply to ancient bones because of poor preservation of fossil DNA, or even the speed of evolution of genes — the molecular clock—, which has been poorly examined. Trying to figure out where the geographical origin of the dog’s emergence is located as well as knowing the time when its survival took place would be an illusion?

Reconstructing how some myths related to dogs have spread around the world

It’s not very sure“, replied Julien d’Huy, associate of the Laboratory of Social Anthropology at the College de France, in Paris, proposing a new method of analysis to answer these questions. Through the use of phylogenetic tools, it is it is really possible, according to him, to reconstruct the way in which certain myths relating to dogs have spread throughout the world, and to return, in doing so, to the possible place of origin where this event takes place. . Anthropozoologica.

Mycenaean art: fresco of dogs chasing a pig from the palace of Tiryns (1350 BC), in Athens (Greece). © Leemage/AFP

In 2021, in the book Cosmogonies (La Découverte editions), Julien d’Huy has already explained how, using advanced technologies, it is possible to return to the most ancient origin of mankind by studying myths. By combining statistical tools and phylogenetic methods – the ones commonly used in the study of species – the researcher was able to identify the family similarities perpetuated in some of the stories between them, whether thousands of kilometers or more. years away. . On the other hand, by comparing the results obtained with genetic and archaeological data, Julien d’Huy observed that the dispersion of these stories consists of migration routes … Hence the application of this system to the next -sequential myths related to dogs, used in this new study.

To do this, I used Yuri Berezkin’s database, professor of anthropology at the European University of Saint Petersburg (Russia) who lists thousands of myths, and I apply to those who associate with dogs the same approach that Cosmogonies do ”, confessed Julien d’Huy, accompanied by Sciences et Avenir. By dividing these stories into elementary units or mythological motives – elements of the account that appear to be unchanged in different stories – these “bricks” are coded in a binary way (0 or 1), then processed by algorithms, making it possible to find degrees of proximity between the myths. , to the point of being able to create phylogenetic trees using these mathematical tools. “This is how, from identifying 23 mythological motifs associated with canids, I obtained a phylogenetic tree whose rooting places the dog’s origin between Central Asia and Eastern Asia. This overlaps the results of archeology and paleogenetics. Similarly, it is possible for me to describe three major blocks of myths, the first mythological tales relating to dogs: one, which deals with the union of dog and woman (or male and female dog), another involved in the dog. and death, and the third, associated with a dog in the star Sirius “.

So, by example and just taking the block related to the theme of dog and death, the details of these stories between different cultural areas show that there is a connection between this animal and other worlds (some beyond) are undoubtedly brought to. America was very early with one or more groups belonging to the first migrants from Asia. “Assuming that the dog had only one origin, these accounts spread first from Central Asia and/or East Asia to eastern Asia, then to the Americas, while still allowing the Bering Strait to pass through the new continent. The second broadcast could take this myth to the Arctic. “explained Julien d’Huy.

Giant geoglyph of a dog (51m long), in the Nazca area, south of Lima (Peru). © Martin Bernetti / AFP

Archaeological traces supporting the theme of the dog and death are known from the Upper Paleolithic.

For this mythological comparison specialist, the equally complex stories found on both sides of the Pacific attest to a common background of myths that began with the first settlement on the American continent but also in scattering of some symbolic deeds. Thus, the existence of prehistoric burials that accompanied a dog to a human burial, sometimes both, reinforces the idea of ​​the role of the psychopomp dog animal guiding the dead to life in the next. life. A custom among others practiced by the Tungus of Manchuria or by the Miaos of southeastern China. The geographical and temporal expansion of this practice attests to the immense antiquity of this mythological motive. Archaeological traces supporting the theme of the dog and death are known from the Upper Palaeolithic, as confirmed by mythological study. In some cases, dogs are buried alone, treated like humans, and placed in graves, along with tools, ornaments, and other items.

The dogs, identified for sure as such, were thus voluntarily buried in Germany, at the double burial in Bonn-Oberkassel, 14,223 years ago; others were found in a habitat in eastern Siberia 12,800 years ago, as well as in the Levant of Ain Mallaha and Hayonim, in Israel, 11,000-12,000 years ago, or even in Kamchatka 10,500 years ago. This practice was also described in North America more than 10,000 years ago, where three dog burials were discovered in Illinois at Koster and Stilwell II, the oldest undisputed dog burial on the continent.recalled Julien d’Huy.

The burial of the dog, dated to 8400 years of age, was discovered in the area of ​​Ljungaviken, near Solvesborg, Sweden. © Johan Nilsson / TT News Agency / AFP

“Following humans, dogs became colonies in Eurasia and America from Asia, and later Africa and Australia”, summarizes Julien d’Huy. Let’s see Canis lupus familiaris is a flowering plant species in the Nile delta about 6000-7000 years ago, or in Sudan about 5600 years ago. As for Australia, he arrives there about 3450 years ago. The dog has become man’s most loyal friend. By studying the myths associated with it, such as archaeological data or paleogenetics, it is possible to achieve more intangible results. Those, for example, allow us to better understand the way our Paleolithic ancestors understood our oldest companions, whom we have always known to be treated like real people in their lives.

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