The origins of the dog and its spread according to mythology

“A man marries a woman-dog”; “The Myth of the Mysterious Housewife”; “It was because of dogs that men became mortal” … Did studying some mythical accounts help us better understand how humans managed to turn wolves into dogs? Pay the enlightenment for questions about paleogenetics and archaeozoologists when and where Canis lupus familiaris has been domesticated? In the quarterly issue Research Laurent AF Frantz, a paleogenetic scientist at the Louis-Maximilien University of Munich (Germania), evokes a real “Track game.” On this still debated issue. And if the dog is so interested in scientists, it is that unlike all other domestic animals, it is the first species to have approached humans thousands of years ago. Or the dates of this event are very variable depending on the sources. Although paleogenetics has revealed that “genetic code of a dog and of a current wolf other than 0,15%”, the same method is much more complex to apply to ancient bones given the poor preservation of fossil DNA, or the rate of evolution of genes – the molecular clock – always poorly evaluated. Would it be illusory to know where the geographical origin of the dog’s emergence is as much as to know the time when its domestication took place?

Reconstruct how certain dog-related myths will spread around the world

It’s not so safe“, answers Julien d’Huy, affiliated with the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie sociale du Collège de France, in Paris, who proposes a new method of analysis to answer these questions. spread throughout the world, and in doing so, to the probable place of origin where this event would have taken place. Anthropozoological.

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

In 2021, in ouvrage Cosmogony (La Découverte editions), Julien d’Huy already explained how, using advanced technologies, it was possible to go back to the oldest origins of humanity by studying myths. By mixing statistical tools and methods of phylogenetics – those usually applied to the study of species – the researcher was able to identify the family airs that certain stories had with each other, even distances of multiple thousands of kilometers or years. . On the other hand, comparing the results obtained with those of genetic and archaeological data, Julien d’Huy found that the dissemination of these stories covered migration routes … Hence the application of this system at one series of dog-related myths, used in this new study.

To do this, I used Yuri Berezkin’s database, Professor of Anthropology at the European University of St. Petersburg (Russia) who lists thousands of myths, and I applied to those associated with dogs the same method that developed in Cosmogonies “, says Julien d’Huy, joined by Sciences et Avenir. By dividing these stories into elementary units or mythological motifs – narrative elements that are found unchanged in different recicits – these “bricks” coded in a binary way (0 or 1), then treated by algorithms, made it possible to find degrees the proximity between des mythes, to the power of building phylogenetic trees with these mathematical tools. “Thus, from the identification of 23 mythological motifs related to canids, I was able to get a phylogenetic tree whose rooting locates the origin of the dog between Central Asia and Asia Minor. EAST. Which overlaps with the results of archeology and paleogenetics. Similarly, it was possible for me to define three major blocks of myths, the first mythological tales related to dogs: one, about the union of a dog and a woman (or a man and a woman). a bitch), another related to the dog and death, and a third, associating a dog with the star Sirius “.

Thus, as an example and to take only the block related to the theme of the dog and death, details of these stories between different cultural areas show that a connection between this animal and the other world (the au -delà) was probably brought to America very early by one or more groups belonging to the first migrants from Asia. “In admitting a unique origin of the dog, these stories will be broadcast from Central Asia and / or East Asia in East Asia, and then to America, when they are destroyed by Bering. still allowed passage to the new continent. A second broadcast would then follow this mythology in the Arctic. “explains Julien d’Huy.

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

Archaeological remains of the dog and death have been known since the Upper Paleolithic.

For this specialist in comparative mythology, the same complex stories found on both sides of the Pacific testify to a common ground of myths dating back to the first settlement on the American continent but also to a spread of certain symbolic practices. Thus, the existence of prehistoric burials associating a canid with a human burial, sometimes two, consolidated the idea of ​​the role of psychopump animal of the dog guiding the dead in the afterlife. A custom, among others, practiced by the Tungusis of Manchuria or the Miaos of southeastern China. The geographical and temporal expansion of this practice would confirm the great antiquity of this mythological motif. Archaeological traces supporting the theme of the dog and death have been known since the Upper Paleolithic, as confirmed by the mythological study. In some cases, the dogs were brought in alone, treated as humans, and placed in graves, accompanied by tools, ornaments, and other objects.

Dogs, identified with certainty as such, were thus voluntarily buried in Germany, in one double burial in Bonn-Oberkassel, 14,223 years ago; others were found in a dwelling in eastern Siberia 12,800 years ago, as well as in the Levant in Ain Mallaha and Hayonim in Israel 11,000-12,000 years ago, or in Kamchatka 10,500 years ago. This practice is also described in North America more than 10,000 years ago, where three dog graves were discovered in Illinois at Koster and Stilwell II, the oldest undisputed canine graves on the continent. “reminds Julien d’Huy.

8400-year-old dog burial at the Ljungaviken site near Solvesborg, Sweden. © Johan Nilsson / TT News Agency / AFP

“As a result of humans, dogs would have Eurasia and America from colonized Asia, and later Africa and Australia.”, CV Julien d’Huy. The return Canis lupus familiaris in the Nile Delta around 6000-7000 years, or in the Sudan around 5600 years. As for Australia, it would have arrived around 3450 years ago. Domesticated, the dog has become man’s most loyal friend. Through the study of the myths associated with it, as much as the data of archeology or paleogenetics, it is possible to achieve more intangible results. Those, for example, provide a better understanding of how our Paleolithic ancestors perceived our older companions, who are often found to have been treated as real people in their lifetime.

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